Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Kinds of Naïveté

Isn’t it interesting that so many people consider it naïve to think that belief in and the practice of the virtues of charity, humility and forgiveness are one way to save this troubled world. It is more fashionable to believe that small-government or trickle-down or tax-and-spend economic policies or trade protectionism, or trade liberalization, will save us. We just have to elect that other guy, not the loser we elected last time, and we'll be back on the right track headed toward prosperity and economic security. We prefer to put our trust in governments who tell us that tightened airport and border security or gun control or sending young people to fight in foreign wars will keep us safe from the threat of terrorism. We think that all we have to do to be happy and safe is to make our country stronger and richer (than those other countries) by spending more at Wal-Mart (on credit, of course).

No, no, we are not naïve. Everyone knows that the only way to win is to beat the other guy. Those old sayings like “Love thy neighbour” and “Turn the other cheek” are for dreamers and wimps.

It just might be time for us to open our eyes and look around at what our lack of naïveté has brought us. If we are truly not naïve, we will quickly see that it ain’t prosperity, it ain’t security, it ain’t happiness.

We are, in fact, profoundly naïve. If we think that the politicians we send as our representatives to state/provincial and federal governments have our interests at heart, we have not been paying attention. If we believe that the increasingly large corporations from whom we purchase our goods and services hold up excellent customer service as their chief ideal, we have not been paying attention.

When Barack Obama’s stimulus package went to a vote in the U.S. Congress earlier this year, not a single Republican voted in favour of the bill. Are we naïve enough to think that every one of these representatives believed that it was in the best interest of his or her constituents to vote against this bill rather than put individual political aspirations to one side and enter into a dialogue with the Democrats in a spirit of selfless service to the people of the United States in a time of great crisis and need? I wonder what the outcome might have been if every Democrat and every Republican had practised the virtues of charity, humility, and forgiveness in the process of dealing with the economic crisis.

The other day I received an e-mail with the following (unverified) information about Wal-Mart:

  • At Wal-Mart, Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day (and Wal-Mart is not only in the U.S.)
  • This year, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at Wal-Mart stores
  • Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world, including Safeway. In the fifteen years it took to accomplish this end, 31 supermarket chains sought bankruptcy
  • The value of products for Wal-Mart passing through the port of San Diego each year is a larger sum than 93% of ALL countries’ Gross National Product (GNP) ...and that is only ONE port way that Wal-Mart gets its stuff
  • Of the 1.6 million Wal-Mart employees, only 1.2% make a living above the poverty level
  • There are more millionaires per square mile in the city of Bentonville, Arkansas, the location of Wal-Mart's head office, than any place on earth
  • Wal-Mart, and MOST large companies, takes out life insurance on its employees, without the employees’ knowledge. If an employee dies, all the life insurance benefits go to the company. For example, if an employee making $18,000 per year dies, the company could reap as much as $1 million. This money is usually paid out to executives as bonuses
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is responsible for calculating the consumer price index (CPI), Wal-Mart’s prices are not significantly lower than those of other retailers
Even if this information is only somewhat true, the situation is still shocking. In our naïveté we are contributing to the concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of a few corporate moguls. Even we are not naïve enough to think that Wal-Mart is a charitable organization.

And while it may be the largest, Wal-Mart is not the only corporate entity that relies on our naïveté to make its executives and shareholders rich. Yet we continue to shop in these places while the local shopkeeper is forced to live hand to mouth or is driven out of business altogether.

I realize that we live in a democracy and in a capitalist economic system, which is generally understood and accepted as the best available system at the moment. But we have failed to recognize that the freedom this system affords us in order to prosper and live well must be balanced with the responsibility to be moderate in our appetites for material wealth. Our naivete is actually the gullibility that is the result of our greed.

Our greed has led to a state in which we believe the false claims and promises of politicians who, for the large part, represent no one other than themselves. We should know by now that only certain types of people enter politics; such awareness should inspire us to keep a careful watch on their activities. Our greed has led us to a state where much of our lives are controlled by very large corporations. The quality of the food we eat, the programs we watch on television, the working life of the appliances or automobiles we purchase, the money we entrust to banks—the list is endless—are all controlled so as to maximize profits and return on investment. There is no concern for the individual customer.

Our greed has brought us to this state, so there is no point in blaming the politicians or the giant corporations because they are better at being greedy than we are.

We must get off this treadmill and retake control of our lives, first by recognizing the mess we have made and then by embracing the other kind of naïveté, the sweet one that Jesus taught. We must admit to ourselves that our greed has not brought us happiness. We must understand that, regardless of whether we are Christian or not, whether we belong to a church or not, practising the virtues of charity, humility, and forgiveness will put us on the path to true joy.

Photo Credit

Creative Commons: Some rights reserved


  1. "Isn’t it interesting that so many people consider it naïve to think that belief in and the practice of the virtues of charity, humility and forgiveness are one way to save this troubled world. It is more fashionable to believe that small-government or trickle-down or tax-and-spend economic policies or trade protectionism, or trade liberalization, will save us."

    You know, as simple as this thought is, it's actually stuck with me for a few days now and feels profound. Increasingly, I'm feeling as though I have no answers to anything. Every problem ends up being infinitely more complex than any proposed solution, which from one perspective or another, eventually become doubtful to me. In all these arguments about politics, doctrine, sexuality, ect, everyone is starting to appear naive and the temptation for me is to close off in apathy, to give up.

    But maybe what it means is that the only realistic, practical option is to live, as best as I can, a compassionate Christian life, to put all of this energy somewhere else, to make agape real and therefore help make Christ's presence truly felt.

    This has definitely been the words I've heard in the past little while: "worry less about being right, and more about transforming your life and the lives of others"

    I'll probably never be able to quit ranting (like I do on my blog), but I do feel like an inner posture is changing and maybe an inner knot being undone. So, thanks for the help.

  2. Hi JD:

    I think you are right: living a compassionate Christian life is indeed a realistic and practical option - more realistic and more practical than living a life filled with inner and outer conflict or with desire for material gain because it is that Christian life that will bring us happiness.

  3. This is excellent but sad. And with all the corporate and secret donations helping to put more Republicans into the House of Representatives do you think it will get any better?