Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas C.M. Countdown, Day 17: Let's go Christmas Shopping with Charlotte Mason

What Shall We Buy?

In the previous posts about Will, we mentioned choosing between things and courses of action; but in Chapter IV (The Scope of Will), Charlotte Mason makes a finer distinction and says that the true function of the Will is to choose not between things themselves, but "between the ideas which these represent" (p. 147). 
"We must bring wide reading, reflection, conscience, and judgment to bear upon our opinions, if it be only an opinion concerning a novel or a sermon––upon our principles, if they affect only the ordering of our day." (p. 150)
To take it even further (Mason says), if we think we are just making a "regular" choice about something, let's say buying a Christmas present, we may actually be acting with Will, because we're choosing a principle, maybe, of "common sense and good taste," rather than ego and vanity, or even idolatry. Sometimes using the Will is easier than we think!  
"Once having arrived at principles of choice in such matters, the special occasions give very little trouble. A choice of will implies some previous action of judgment and conscience, some knowledge of the subject, and, generally, some exercise of taste and imagination. We do not choose a thing because we will to do so––that would be mere waywardness; but will acts upon information and reflection." (p. 149)
The key warning word seems to be "suggestion," whether it comes from the media, from what's offered as we browse (online or in a store), or by a salesperson. (See a previous post on this topic.) Those who have read Charlotte Mason's guides to education will recall her criticism of teachers who use "suggestion" as a subtle means of manipulating students. Again, this is a very fine line, because we know that even a tiny suggestion can be very potent, especially if it comes from a respected source. (Idolatry again?) When we can see a mistake about to be made, it is so, so hard to maintain "masterly inactivity" and not to interfere. 

Too complicated? Here's the short version according to Mason: if you're watching kids play, and if nobody's in immediate and serious danger of getting hurt, back off. If giving advice to friends means that you're stealing an opportunity for them to build their choosing muscles, keep quiet. And when it comes to your own choices, realize that you are dealing with ideas more than things, and try to choose based more on "information and reflection," and firm, clear principles, than spur-of-the-moment suggestions.

Shop Till We Drop...Where?
"Cheap 'Notions.'––The dishonest fallacy, that it is our business to get the best that is to be had at the lowest price, is another cause of infinite waste of time, money, and nervous energy. The haunting of sales, the ransacking of shop after shop, the sending for patterns here, there, and everywhere, and various other immoralities, would be avoided if we began with the deliberate will-choice of a guiding principle; that, for example, we are not in search of the best and the cheapest, but, of what answers our purpose at the price we can afford to pay.
"The mad hunt for the best, newest, most striking, and cheapest, is not confined to matters of dress and ornament, household use and decoration. We are apt to run after our opinions and ideas with the same restless uncertainty. Indeed, it is ideas we hunt all the time; even if we go to a sale with the dishonest and silly notion that we shall get such and such a thing––'a bargain,' that is, for less than its actual worth." (p. 149)
Charlotte Mason would seem to be very much in tune with current ideas of sustainable and well-considered shopping. As someone who lives next door to a discount store, I am well aware of the temptations of imported bargains and glitz. Even there, though, I try to think through what comes home. There is no reason to impulse-buy four t-shirts just because they're cheap; but they did have decent cloth handkerchiefs awhile ago, so I bought two packages. I don't buy Santa sweatshirts, but I did buy a solid-colour turtleneck sweater that looked like it would hold up through a reasonable number of washings. In a way, for me, shopping there is a good choice because it means I do not run to other stores looking for bargains. Still, I'm aware of even better alternatives, including fair trade, buying from a local maker, shopping used, or not buying anything new at all (re-using, different-using, up-cycling), and I try to choose those options when I can.

That sounds boring! I would rather live in Whoville at Christmas!
"The great decision open to us all, the great will act of a life, is whether we shall make our particular Mansoul available for service by means of knowledge, love, and endeavour. Then, the opportunities that come are not our affair, any more than it is the affair of the soldier whether he has sentry duty or is called to the attack." (p. 151)
So here's the thing...

If we're available, and not caught up with some other "really important" thing, the adventures will come.

And if we're paying attention, we won't miss hearing the angels.

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