Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peace on Earth
5 Days to Christmas

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2: 13,14)

One of the mysteries of the Christmas season is that, suddenly, there is goodness all around. People wear a smile on their faces and talk about being good to others. Songs and carols are all about spreading love and happiness. Films are infused with that 'feel-good' chemical that's supposed to have a ka-ching effect on the box office. Restaurants serve up goodies that are supposed to take us back to memories of happier times. And of course, shops and malls are in full throttle to make us spend a lot of money on our 'gift-giving'.

Now I'm not against all these things per se, but my cynical side does tend to groan at this excessive sweetness. On the face of it, I'm glad people are making a sincere effort at being kind, generous and loving, and then on the other hand, one looks at the debris left worldwide by human greed and one wonders. How much of this goodness is real, and how much is synthetic? How much of it is spurred by the festivities, and how much of it is encouraged by the need to justify mass-consumption?

I wish I had some ready-made answers, but I think it will be pointless to go answer-hunting. Some things are best understood by reflecting on the broader context. A deeper reflection always throws light on perspectives that we don't notice at a first glance. A closer examination will show us that 'intentions' play a key role in these festive expenditures. And as 'intentions' go, there is always the good side and the bad side. But for now I'll resist this massive urge to go ballistic on the negative and, instead, look at the bright side.

Quite frankly, if we just concentrate on the best-case scenario we'll notice that the purpose behind gift-giving, sumptuous lunches and dinners is to bring some kind of joy in the lives of people towards whom it is intended. At least, that's the intention, the objective, the goal or whatever it is you'd want to call it. The idea behind all these festivities is to bring some peace and goodwill in the hearts and minds of people. And that's a good intention to have, right.

I decided to crawl the world wide web to find out if I could put a ballpark figure to these good intentions, and if some facts and figures could be retrieved to help us determine its net worth, so to speak. It was hard to find global estimates because data is all scattered, but going to this site, I was able to find out that the estimated spend for the Christmas period in UK is £33billion, which is an increase of 6% on 2005. And that over £15billion is estimated to be spent in the two weeks before Christmas which is a rise of 8% on last year.

The same statistics go on to say that on average a person will spend £390 on Christmas gifts. And that the average household expenditure on food and drink is likely to rise by 2% to £163. Christmas lunch will cost on average £14 per head.

Obviously, these facts and figures will raise questions about excess, and how millions die hungry without a chance of a decent meal. One can't argue that at all. However, keep your finger on the 'good intentions' button for a while, and let's place these Christmas expenditure figures next to global military expenditures.

Some of you may say it's not fair to compare the two because both have different goals. Precisely. And that's why, I've asked you to keep your focus on the 'good intentions' bit of the argument. But first, let's look at the facts and figures.

According to data released by Global Security, the official figures (that may understate actual spending) for global military expenditure is $950 billion (2004). The top five military spenders are US ($466 billion), China ($65 billion), Russia ($50 billion), France ($46.5 billion)and Japan ($44.7 billion). And of course, UK spends $31.7 billion.

And if this wasn't enough, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has reported in its annual yearbook that world military spending rose for a sixth year running in 2004, growing by 5 percent to $1.04 trillion on the back of "massive" U.S. budgetary allocations for its war on terror.

Perspective is important when one looks at such data. Perspective helps us to take a look at the essential context of things. And basically, enables us to compare and contrast, and hopefully, arrive at our own conclusions.

I don't know about you, but I have a hunch that trillion dollars is a lot of money for security. And if this much money is required to keep the world safe, then, something is seriously wrong with the human race. If we are so angry with each other and our enmity is so strong that governments feel that it makes more sense to spend huge amounts of money on armaments and not on welfare, healthcare, education and food. Then there is something chronically wrong somewhere. We have certainly missed the mark as far as common sense, decency and values are concerned. Or maybe, our priorities have changed.

Whatever it is that's missing, at least, this Christmas season we better do what we can as far as 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men' is concerned. How? Let's first do it and figure out the hows later.

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