I read a post recently that criticised “National Women’s Day”. The author quite rightly pointed out that it had led to massive commercialisation of women’s products and only token gestures about women’s issues. I don’t know what happens on that particular day so I can’t make any informed comment, but it sounds about right to me.
It’s not uncommon to hear people deride special days or events. Yet I fully support the idea of special days to commemorate something. Just because it is abused by those with ulterior motives doesn’t make it wrong in itself.
Let me start off with a simple event that most of us (but not all of us) would probably agree with. Birthdays. I’m a great believer in celebrating birthdays, whether the celebration be lavish or simple. It’s an opportunity to let someone know they are special in a way that’s different from normal. It’s a way of underscoring a truth that is hopefully present all the time, but highlighted on this special day.
And this is where a lot of people protest. They say, surely if you are special, it should be something communicated every day. In relation to National Womens Day, women’s issues should be important all the time, and not just once a year.
Well, pardon my bluntness, but “duh”. Of course women’s issues are important all year long. Of course this person is special all year round. But you try and make something “special” every day and guess what? First of all, it can’t be done (you would wear out sooner or later) and secondly, if every day day you treat everyone and everything as special, then no-one, and nothing, is actually special at all.
Huh? You heard me. To draw attention to something, it has to be something that is not always drawn attention to. Let’s say your child keeps on getting A’s for her work at school. Should you congratulate her every time and tell her how proud you are? Absolutely. Should you throw a party every time? Well … no. Your congratulations is nothing special – it’s something you regularly do. Winning Olympic gold isn’t special if it is achieved every day (I know it can’t be, but run with me on this). Telling someone you love them every day is great (and absolutely doable) but it’s not ‘special’ to do so (and if you expected them to react as if it was special every day, then they would soon tire of it!)
If we want something to be special, if we want to draw attention to something, it simply can’t be highlighted all the time, because that makes it average, or normal. So if I’m loved all year round, and people appreciate me all year around, do I need a special day? Maybe not “need” exactly. But appreciate? Yes, definitely.
My daughter knows she is loved. But you should see the look on her face when we celebrate her birthday. She loves the reminder that she is special, as do all my kids, my wife, and myself. And we all have times when we feel worn down by life or our own limitations in spite of an encouraging atmosphere. From that perspective, we do need birthdays.
By the way, you can actually overdo encouragement to the point where it means nothing. If every time I do something you tell me that it’s “wonderful”, the word wonderful ceases to have any meaning. Seeing I’m not God, there will be many things I do that are less than wonderful. If I know you love me, then I don’t need constant praise that becomes meaningless. But give me a special day when I’m reminded you love me even if I haven’t done anything wonderful – yes please!
So, getting back to special days. If it’s important to make people feel special at least one day in the year then this also applies to special days in a larger scale – National Women’s Day, Remembrance Day (that’s what it’s called in Australia, but I’m sure you have similar days), Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and whatever other day you care to name.
Can this be abused? Absolutely. Can this be overdone by giving reasonably unimportant things a special day? Absolutely (Valentine’s Day comes to mind, but you might disagree with me there).
It is unfortunate that commercial interests crowd out special days. I can’t see that that is ever going to change, because that is what retailers (and politicians, and not for profit organisations and ….you fill this space…) do. They look for ways to capitalise on an event, and nothing is ever going to stop that.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. If it’s important to us, then we simply have to try harder to make our voices heard. Take National Womens Day for example. The blogger who spoke about it used the event to highlight her concerns that the real issues concerning women were being ignored. She then went on to spell out a whole range of issues, and she sounded pretty spot on to me. But it’s a bit of a contradiction – she used the day that she had berated to put forth a strong agenda for women. She just capitalised on the day in the way that it should be used.
That doesn’t mean she won’t have more to say about women’s issues on many other days of the year, and shame on her if she doesn’t. But as least she used the day in question to further the cause.
For the person whose birthday we have just celebrated, God forbid that we then ignore them for the rest of the year. If we do end up doing that, then shame on us. We can’t use one day of the year to validate ill treatment or indifference for the other 364 days. But I’m sure most of us don’t act like that anyway.
So let’s celebrate our loved ones’ birthdays – let’s make them feel special, important, loved, in ways we don’t normally show it. And then let’s at regular intervals make sure they’re reminded, in little, unplanned ways. And ditto for special days of the year – let’s pay attention, let’s highlight that cause, and then, for the rest of the year, make sure that, as part of our everyday life, we contribute something to it as well.