• Sunday Essay #3: 'Tis the Season for Compassion

    • Posted on Dec 17, 2017

    Sunday Essay #3 is also today's Courier Column--and for a change, almost no political sniping.  This holiday season amounts to solid case for compassion, and I try to underline that here.  


                Of all the virtues decent people try to live by—balance, compassion, integrity, forgiveness, fairness—compassion strikes me as most important.  This holiday season it deserves special attention, since it seems to be waning.      

                The New Testament’s Christ and Christmas stories amount to studies in compassion, beginning with the manger and ending on the cross.  Even non-Christians admit that the story reveals and embodies compassion.    

                Poor and outcast Joseph and soon-to-be mother Mary struggle to find shelter, then give birth in a lowly barn’s animal stall.  That child grows up to be a world spiritual leader, only to suffer crucifixion followed by redemption, thankfully. 

                It all centers on compassion, which means co-suffering. Even the secular among us who understand the story suffer along with Christians and their savior.    

                These days, even with rampant commercialization, the root of our holiday season is still giving. And what is giving at its best but compassion? 

                Thoughtful giving requires understanding, and the best gifts become lifelong memories. That first bike, which took you everywhere in style.  Or your first handsome suit or formal gown, which made you feel closer to adulthood.  Or that generous gift certificate which allowed you to own something you could never afford.  All were gifts that required a modicum of thoughtful compassion from the giver.   

                Don’t underestimate the joy of giving and receiving gifts rooted in compassion.  

                At its best, the holiday season amounts to a celebration of compassion. Locally, the Cedar Valley Food Bank and the Cedar Valley Hospice remain among the most deserving, their missions centering wholly on compassion. 

                When we look out for each other, as the season celebrates, we thrive.  In fact, when we act for the good of others, we inevitably act for the good of ourselves. Unless you’re the “before” Scrooge, it feels good to give. 

                 Charles Darwin drew that very conclusion as he studied how species evolved. He noted that “. . . the social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of his fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.” 

                The great biologist believed that “survival of the fittest” worked as the evolutionary engine because the “fittest” were those who cared for others as much or more than themselves. That’s how a species ultimately survives—the Golden Rule in practice.  

                For Darwin, it was never a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survived.  

                Currently we seem to be ignoring that lesson and splitting into “us” against “them.”    Tribalists rail against diversity, sure that we do better by supporting and protecting only our own.  This can’t last, since humans are interdependent, now globally so.     

                Ultimately, “me first” believers risk becoming egomaniacs and narcissists who either deny or avoid feeling compassion. In the long run, they become outcasts. Dictators and authoritarians discover, sooner or later, they have no friends and nowhere to go. 

                ‘tis the season for compassion, for building bridges.  Not walls.  










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    Posted in
    • Christmas
    • Holidays
  • Finding the Perfect Gift

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2016
    Christmas Day column in the Courier--fun for one and all, at least toward the end.

    Every year we give and get gifts large and small, expensive and simple, heartfelt and routine.  Every year we give or get only one or two—if we’re lucky—perfect gifts. 

    Some years we give or get none, though we might receive plenty of wonderful gifts. 

     Perfection eludes most gifting.     

     So what’s the perfect gift?  First, what it is not, then what it is. 

    The perfect gift has nothing to do with giving exactly what’s asked for.  That’s just fulfilling a wish, which gets appreciation and gratitude, but not the wonder and joy of a perfect gift. 

    The perfect gift is seldom merely money, though that’s easy—for those who have it—and usually appreciated.   But it’s hardly perfect.  Anyone with money can give some away and relieve the challenge of gift-finding.  

     The perfect gift is not a yearly package from a Christmas gift company—nuts, cookies, fruitcake, whatever.   Such predictable yearly gifts are appreciated, but hardly perfect.  Think homemade vs. store-bought. 

    Nor is the perfect handpicked gift predictable—the same ties or shirts or candy every December 25th. They’re often appreciated, but none dare call them perfect. 
    The vast majority of gifts, you see, fall far short of perfection.  They’re what we mostly give as gifts on Christmases and birthdays. 

    So it’s a major challenge to find and give a perfect gift.  Consider:  

    The giftee never thinks to buy the perfect gift for him/herself.  It’s either too extravagant, too unusual, or too outside expectations.  A gourmet catered dinner, say, for someone who loves food but seldom goes out. Damn the considerable expense—make it among the best meals ever.    

    The perfect gift reveals the giver’s understanding of the giftee’s desires and needs.  Rare and expensive season tickets for the concertgoer or sports fan; surprise long-distance train tickets for a rail travel lover; a special Sioux ceremonial healing stick for a devotee of Native Americans. (The latter was an actual perfect gift I saw given just a few days ago, and the giftee could hardly contain his delight.)

    Finally, the perfect gift amounts to a perfect storm of choices—about the giftee’s personality, the budget, the mix of beauty and usefulness, degree of surprise, and timing.    

    This year, I did receive the perfect gift, and I was so pleased that I shared it on Facebook, and exclaim about whenever I use it.   

     It has all the attributes of a perfect gift:  unusual, nothing I would have bought for myself, surprise, and shows that the giver (my daughter) understands my personality and needs.   It’s slightly crude, but that fits my personality too, so no problem. 

    The gift?  Three rolls of China-made toilet paper with all the sheets imprinted with the unmistakable mug of—well, you can guess.   

    I plan to use it all through the holidays and share with relatives, most of whom will be aghast.  I’m hoping for amused, though.   

    Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a sanitary New Year.  

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    Posted in
    • Holidays
    • Humor
    • Christmas
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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