‘You can’t take it with you when you go’. This gem was part of a treasure trove of sage advice passed down to us from an older and wiser generation. If only it had been accompanied with, ‘Practice what you preach’. Because as baby boomers and generation X sort through the family home, now the parents have moved on, they are finding the previous generation did not walk the talk. Left in our hands is the fate of everything from their art and furniture through to their memorabilia and dry-cleaning receipts dating back to 1973.
It’s been said our parents’ behaviour is the product of growing up in the great depression; they are unable to throw anything away, even if its had it. I’m not convinced. The depression theory would explain some additional work clothes, sensible shoes and emergency food rations. However, it doesn’t cut the mustard (five opened and expired jars of it) in explaining why anyone needs 102 pairs of pantihose or 45 hotel shower caps. I don’t believe the great depression was withstood by staying in hotels and stealing shower caps.
There are a range of reasons why we collect stuff. One is financial – some collections can be worth millions. However, most are not worth anything at all. The items in these collections have a sentimental value, they help to keep the past alive. Historically collections of photographs have done this well. This won’t work in the future if all you photograph are your pets and your food.
Hoarding on the other hand is pathological. Paradoxically it is linked to perfectionism and the fear of making the wrong decision; hence the inability to know what to acquire, keep or discard. Predictably Freud believed it was due to unresolved issues around toilet training, and who better to explain a pile of crap than Freud.
Baby boomers and generation X had better beware though, because an inability on their part to discern what to keep or what to discard will see what’s left over from their parent’s home assimilated into their own. Then you can look forward to your home becoming a monument to the indecision of two generations.
What may ultimately come to our rescue is the fact our houses have grown bigger by over 50% since the 1970s. Consequently, you need not make too many tough decisions, just take the stuff and leave it for your kids to sort out. After all another useful gem from the past is, ‘Like mother, like daughter.’
I’ve always been skeptical about the biblical story of that first Christmas in Bethlehem; before you burn me at the stake read on. My doubt has nothing to do with the concept of a virgin birth. Indeed, I know many a teenage girl who has used this explanation for their ‘condition’ – unfortunately for them the consensus was that a more earthly congress had taken place. Rather what beggars belief is that there were three wise men. I don’t doubt there are three wise men somewhere. Indeed, in an infinite universe all possibilities must eventuate, however unlikely it may seem. But the chance of finding three in the one place at the one time does seem unlikely; an event akin to winning the lottery three times, or finding three pens in your house that work. These are all theoretically possible, but you just know it’s not going to happen.
The other explanation is that while there were three men hanging about – a common occurrence – they weren’t wise. After all two thirds of their gifts (frankincense and myrrh) are ingredients for incense – hardly an appropriate gift for a baby. Although perhaps they wanted to mask the agrarian smells from the stable. On the other hand they did bring gold, which in those uncertain times would have been a hedge against inflation, a weakening shekel and a stock market disaster – that would have been wise. Assuming they could carry a gold ingot (12.4kg) they would have gifted a tidy nest egg to the future king. In today’s money that’s about $520,263.33, which is enough to buy 50, 324 goats, 40 hectares near Jerusalem, or a tiny bed-sit in the city.
What would three wise women have brought? Remember that Bethlehem was bulging at the seams that night with visitors who had come to register for the census of Caesar Augustus. The chances are that every woman was doing then what they’re doing today at Christmas: catering for households full of people. They wouldn’t have had time to go blundering around Judea in the dark following yonder star. However if they had of popped out between making meals and doing dishes I imagine they’d have done something practical for the new family. Perhaps a swaddling cloth for the baby, lanolin for Mary’s cracked nipples, and for Joseph, a sound telling off for not booking ahead at Christmas time. That’s what I call wise.
With regard to committing social faux pas the world can be divided into two groups: those who admit to regularly transgressing social norms, and those who lie. For apparently we all embarrass ourselves four times a day on average. Just thinking about myself, I’d consider only four embarrassing moments within a 24 hour period a stellar day. One worthy of celebrating by jumping up and down on the spot and shouting with glee! Oops….
It seems to me that embarrassment serves two valuable purposes. Firstly it entertains friends, giving them much hilarity. Secondly it provides material for speech writers at birthdays, weddings and funerals. My funeral may run for days as my blunders, gaffes and indiscretions are recounted; although ironically my funeral may be the one social engagement where I maintain a calm composure.
Psychologists believe the purpose of going bright red is to clearly communicate that we are aware of our mistake. This colourful admission of guilt results in the beetroot-faced being more likely to be forgiven, trusted and liked than those who maintain a perpetual calm. Consequently people showing embarrassment are more likely to be found attractive. So why am I still single? I believe the frequency and scale of my embarrassments has rendered my attractiveness so great that I am viewed as unattainable; sad, but perhaps true.
So the next time you fail to live up to some social standard and you feel the colour rising in your cheeks, take heart in the possibility that a future beau may note your discomfort, and judge you to be both trustworthy and attractive. Who knows, perhaps there’s a tourist somewhere who’s wondering how to contact that woman with her pants down and her colour up.