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That’s the Spirit

We’ve all seen Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, that heartwarming and inspiring black-and-white film classic where Jimmy Stewart discovers the amazing impact that his life decisions have had on his friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors. Always the guy who put others’ needs first, George Bailey never got to travel the world, go to college, or even join his friend Sam Wainwright in a highly lucrative business career. Yes, one lonely Christmas eve, George found himself “worth more dead than alive,” at last from a financial perspective.

On the off-chance that you haven’t seen the film, I won’t ruin the ending; however, I think we’d all do well to see this movie at least once a year. Why? Because it provides an excellent antidote to Black Friday’s shopping mayhem and Cyber Monday’s $1.5B online spending spree, as well as a welcome respite from the overindulgence that characterizes the holidays in countries like the US.  It’s time we center our thoughts on the right things, the things that REALLY matter. Not what kind of car we drive, house we live in, clothes we wear, or presents we lavish on our loved ones (and ourselves), but rather how we give our time and attention to others less fortunate than we are.

I am not referring to things like Starbucks’ recent promotion of 2 holiday beverages for the price of 1; while a nice gesture for those in need of a caffeine or sugar fix, it’s not really helping anyone in need (and, if we’re honest, it’s really more of a ploy to get people into the stores to buy other merchandise like mugs, CDs, gift cards, etc.). No, what really gets my attention is people and organizations focused on taking action that directly improves the human condition. Whether it’s 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith who gave up her birthday presents to raise funds for clean drinking water; or a teen named Justin Churchman, who took the initiative to build 18 houses in Juarez, Mexico by his 18th birthday; or professor-turned-activist David Batstone, who is actively working to abolish human trafficking.

But I’m far from alone in seeking a Black Friday/Cyber Monday antidote. An idea called #GivingTuesday, incubated out of NY’s 92nd Street Y, has grown to include more than 2,000 U.S. organizations. It is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. That’s one national holiday I could really support! (Pun intended.) This past Tuesday, they hosted an inaugural tweet jam to discuss giving during and after the holiday season. You can check out the discussion on the hashtag #GivingTuesday and #GNO. Also, if you’d like to share your thoughts on giving and the best and worst this holiday season has to offer over, just join in the conversation using #ThatsTheSpirit.

Now, if you already have a favorite charity or two and want to connect with your friends privately, there’s a new site called Gudville (disclaimer: Gudville is a Sterling client) that just emerged from private beta. In Gudville, you can raise or donate money, organize volunteer time, sign a petition or conduct a poll. It’s early days yet for this new “private social action network,”  but spending some of my holidays working on things I care about with the people in my life that I care about … well, that sure beats fighting for parking spaces at the local mall so I can get more stuff I really don’t need or have space to store.

Follow Marianne on Twitter @marianneoconnor.