Let Santa be Santa 

It’s become unpopular, or even at times politically divisive to advocate for Santa Claus. I can agree with parts of the argument: lying to children about things that don’t exist isn’t great and parents who work hard should get credit for fulfilling their kids’ wishes. My parents didn’t try to keep up the facade of Santa, so I understood that there was no one person capable of keeping score on who is naughty or nice. The Santa equation enforces the overly simplistic idea that people are motivated only by reward or punishment, a gift or a piece of coal. 

But I propose there is a key role for Santa Claus. The jolly man in red can help children to understand themselves beyond the family unit. Santa presents the paradigm that there is a socially agreed-upon framework for what it means to be good or bad; and by extension that the definition of and value of our actions is not measured solely by our parents or family. Children don’t question the method when not one of their peers gets the doomed coal in their stockings.

I’m proposing that Santa is a vehicle to transmit the idea that larger forces agree on what it means to be good. If, in one household, a child is praised for loading the dishwasher, while in another household, a child is praised for hand washing the dishes, that distinction isn’t critical –  the larger tenet is that it is good to be helpful. But what happens if it is only our parents or family that tells us being helpful deserves to be rewarded? As we realize that our parents were wrong about things and we then decide we don’t follow their religion or want to follow in their career or doubt their rabid nationalism. Can we then also question if being helpful deserves to be rewarded, if that value was only reinforced by their measuring tape. 

The idea of external validation has gotten convoluted to the point where we have tried to convince people that their sense of themselves is the highest reward. How is that not a harmful, or at least foolish paradox? We gain no confidence nor skill by pretending that the higher score doesn’t win the basketball game, that incorrect spelling wins the spelling bee, or that the song with high notes sounds good in every voice. A person can love opera. They can practice for hours every day, hire coaches and take classes. But at some point someone else is going to have to decide whether they are a good opera singer or not. Comparing yourself with others and exterior validation are critical forms of measurement. Otherwise, we live as self contained delusions of grandeur, wondering why no one else notices. 

to fail or not to fail, what is your response

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