I want to introduce you to Homer. Not Homer Simpson. Not Homer the Greek author. His name is Homer Mellen.
On Dec. 9, a post titled “Christmas Wish List From 1915 Will Make You Feel Materialistic” by Eliza Murphy, appeared on ABC News Blogs. This post highlighted a Christmas list from then 7-year-old Homer. His letter was written in neat cursive and was dated on the top. Consider his list:
“Dear Santa Claus, Will you please send me a box of paints also a nine cent reader and a school bag to put them in. And if you have any nuts, or candy, or toys to share? Would you kindle send me some. And you will please a seven year old boy. Signed, Homer Mellen.”
Compare Homer’s list with the list of a 7-year old girl this year from Maryland. Her list was just that, a list. It just started listing things she wanted. Included on this list was “a little thing you can turn into anything at anytime,” “1,000 bucks,” “all of the beanie babies,” “a pet puppy … with a peace sign collar” and “black, light blue, green, purple and pink Northface jackets.”
Now, to be fair, little Homer wrote his list during a much different era. It was written during World War I. That was the year that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was formulated. It was the year that Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra were born. The annual median household income was less than $700. A gallon of gasoline cost a quarter and a new car $500.
It was a much different time. However, comparing Homer’s list to a modern child’s list is not comparing apples to oranges. It is like comparing green apples to red apples. They are both still apples, and valid contrasts can be made.
Children are honest. They usually do not have much pretense and perhaps they can help give us an accurate picture of a cultural mindset. Maybe we can learn some things about our culture and ourselves by comparing these lists.
About the only things that is similar about these lists is that they are written on paper. Let’s notice some differences.
One list primarily highlights “needs,” the other “wants.” Homer kindly asked for school supplies. The little girl demanded completely discretionary and unnecessary items. I think this one is a pet peeve of many, especially of those who have lived during less materially wealthy times in our nation’s history.
One list communicated and exuded politeness. The other was a list of demands to be fulfilled, or else. Politeness goes beyond saying “please” and “thank you.” It is a disposition of heart. It is an attitude of consideration for other peoples. Perhaps what we have gained in wealth, we have lost in every day politeness.
One list communicated respect, the other disrespect. The sad thing about all of this is that you really cannot blame the child. The child is acting consistently with what they see in their own family and friends circle and what is expected of them.
The tragedy is that parents and other “responsible” adults will look at the girl’s list and say things like “how cute,” or “she’s a mess” and just go on like this is normal. Meanwhile, the little girl eats up the attention and learns that this is completely acceptable behavior. In this situation, how will she learn to respect adults?
I do not think we need to compare children’s Christmas lists to realize we are a very materialistic culture, whose traditional virtues are being destroyed. Has an obsession with possessions been good for us?
We modern Americans like to fashion ourselves as “people of progress.” Progress is a buzzword that carries positive connotations in our culture. However, progress can be good or bad. All it tells me is that I am moving in some direction.
If I am progressing on a road that leads me to an undesirable destination, progress is not good. I would be better served to stop, turn around and get on the right road and begin progressing on it.
If progression along a road leads to a desirable end, then progress is good. The idea of progress presupposes that we have a definite goal in mind. We cannot measure progress unless the goal remains the same.
So, if we are making “good progress” as a people, why is it good and where is it leading us? In many ways, we have made tremendous good progress (namely in science and technology), but in many ways we have made bad progress in matters of morality and general human well-being.
What is the ultimate goal of humanity (if there is one)? Where are we going, and why are we going there? These are fundamental and real questions that we all answer by what we believe and how we live. What is real progress?