My faith in the basic goodness of humanity is often renewed by children — not just my own, although in this case, it was.
MY 11 year old daughter was a little sneaky this year at Christmas time. She had $20 to spend for Christmas. The children passed out their gifts first, and after all of Tesa’s were opened, I realized they did not add up to $20 – yet she had called me and asked for more money. So I was suspicious about what happened to her money. Well, we continued to open presents. I was passing out presents, and I cam across these presents marked “From Santa.” Since I’d wrapped or helped wrapped all the presents, I couldn’t figure out what these were. Then it dawned on me after a minute, that the 11 year old had hidden these presents under the tree with “Santa” on them instead of her name.
The funny thing here was the mix-up: she’d mislabeled her and her mom’s gifts: so the 11 year old opens her present to find a pair of socks — the look on her face was confusion mixed with sadness. Later on, my wife opened her present from Santa to find glowing bouncing balls. Santa got confused.
Of course, we all figured it out in the end; and she did get something for herself from Santa. But that’s not the point — we all have motives for what we do, and the question isn’t whether we gain something or have some reason for what we do. Aristotle and Thomas believed that every act is for some end — something we see as good. Yet, we can still act altruistically when the good we aim at is, not our own, but that of the other. And here, this wonderful thoughtful 11 year old tries to make everyone happy by giving them a present from Santa. I almost cried.
None of which is to say that she doesn’t fight with her sisters or doesn’t have a snarky voice, or anything else. We’re all human, which means we all have faults. The question before us is whether we focus on the faults — as Augustine did — or focus on the goodness, as Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi did.
Christmas time is a good time to remember that it’s better to follow Thomas and Francis. It’s also a time to live out that subversive character of giving to the other.