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Christmas Correctness

Christmas Correctness

An editorial calling for sensible values at Christmas

I just had a strange conversation about Christmas Correctness: should political correctness be allowed to wreak havoc at Christmas? The conversation was partly triggered by whether we (as a charity which respects different faiths but chooses none to profess) could have a sound-track of a four year old child singing "Away in the Manger" as a background to a presentation on our website. Last year in the country there was a wider debate about the use of phrases like "Christmas" in all of the country's celebrations. Political correctness said we should find other words to express our celebration. This year the Conservative Party have had some stick for not including the word Christmas in their official seasonal cards, and for years we have sold a variety of messages in ours because it is hard to know where to turn.

Personally I was relieved that, last year, leaders of other religious groups in the UK turned on the political police, and more or less said in unison "we really like Christmas, we are not complaining". After all, children in school these days often enjoy celebrating Eid, Diwali, Hanuka without anyone else complaining about it and festivals are inclusive occasions when far more people participate in religious celebration than at the rest of the year. 

The international development sector is often similarly hit by politically correct foolishness. I read recently that there were now thirty times more NGO expats working in the government in Uganda just supervising the use of aid money than there had been expats running the entire Uganda government when it was administrated by the UK. Sometimes we cannot make up our mind if we should tell developing world countries what to spend our aid on or if we should, much more expensively, second people into them so that they ask for funds for the right thing. How absurd. The SOS model at least has very few expats (98.5% of employees are local) and the local offices have little difficulty working out what kinds of projects we think we should be funding. But then its the big government to government project aid which fails anyway.

Equally strange in my view has been the erosion of the traditional notion of a child sponsorship. Sponsoring someone used to mean helping them. Tracking detailed accounts for hundreds of thousands of children may not be possible with low admin costs but at least the sponsored children had someone looking out for them. Then there was some political comment in the New Statesman several decades ago complaining that child sponsorship was not egalitarian enough because only some children benefited ("improve your lot somewhere else, we are all equal here"). Instead of replying that helping one child is better than helping none, some charities changed model to one where a sponsored child is not directly helped but all funds are spent in a completely egalitarian manner in the community. The only link with a child in those cases is geographical and a little gift when someone drives by and photos them. I haven't seen any research on it but my impression is that the charities which went that way have had to spend more and more money trying to get fewer and fewer sponsorships, whereas those which kept to a traditional model have grown quickly and cheaply. Helping a child is what a sponsor wants to do. We do not after all worry too much about being exactly fair that everyone gets the same present at Christmas: we do our best but "paralysis by analysis" is a real risk and sometimes we just have to get on with it.