In­spired re­ply to age-old ques­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

Want to know the bat­ting av­er­age of some re­lief pitcher for the 1946 Yan­kees? As re­cently as a decade ago, you might have had to look that up in a ref­er­ence book or call a friend with a head for sports statis­tics. Now, that in­for­ma­tion is lit­er­ally at your fin­ger­tips (or thumb tips if you use a hand­held).

The more tech­no­log­i­cally jaded of you may yawn and shrug your shoul­ders as you check Face­book posts on your phone. Folks who thought a tran­sis­tor ra­dio was a won­der­ment and mar­veled at the thought of be­ing able to watch a movie on tape any­time you wanted on a VCR, how­ever, can’t help but have a “gee whiz” re­ac­tion to in­no­va­tions in com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Those folks still find it in­cred­i­ble that in­for­ma­tion that can lead you to a lu­cra­tive in­vest­ment or to the near­est dry clean­ers can all be con­tained in a lit­tle box. The moun­tain of in­for­ma­tion avail­able to­day chal­lenges us to be smart about how we climb it.

In this busi­ness, we are fully aware that “ac­cu­rate” and “right” are not syn­ony­mous. A piece of in­for­ma­tion that is “right” is not nec­es­sar­ily ac­cu­rate. Pub­lish­ing “ac­cu­rate” in­for­ma­tion that has no pub­lic value isn’t right. Dis­tribut­ing “ac­cu­rate” in­for­ma­tion that is taken out of con­text isn’t right ei­ther.

There was a small dust-up ear­lier this month over an af­ter-school teacher in Austin dis­cussing the Santa Claus “myth” with a class of 5-year- olds.

As the Amer­i­can-States­man’s Farzad Mashhood re­ported then, Santa Claus is so in­grained in the Amer­i­can cul­ture that NORAD has a web­site that tracks the flight of a sleigh pow­ered by eight rein­deer on Christ­mas Eve. Is the in­for­ma­tion the na­tion’s air de­fense sys­tem dis­plays ac­cu­rate? Is it right to do so?

Mashhood con­sulted Cindy Dell Clark, a Rut­gers Univer­sity-Cam­den an­thro­pol­o­gist who has stud­ied chil­dren’s be­lief in Santa Claus for three decades. Clark con­cludes that chil­dren ought to fig­ure out for them­selves whether Santa Claus ex­ists. “It’s taboo to say there’s no Santa Claus. It’s an age-graded be­lief sys­tem that we ex­pect some chil­dren to be­lieve in.”

Even armed with all the in­for­ma­tion at our dis­posal, would we really want to pull the trig­ger on a child’s be­lief in a very ro­tund, very gen­er­ous, red-suited phi­lan­thropist?

Back in 1897, the edi­tors at the New York Sun faced that ques­tion and an­swered with what be­came the world’s most cel­e­brated let­ter to the ed­i­tor.

So it here it is again for the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­one who will ac­cept an in­jec­tion of be­lief and hope and for teach­ers in need of a lit­tle learn­ing.

We take plea­sure in an­swer­ing thus promi­nently the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­low, ex­press­ing at the same time our great grat­i­fi­ca­tion that its faith­ful au­thor is num­bered

among the friends of The Sun: Dear Ed­i­tor, I am 8 years old. Some of my lit­tle friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

— Vir­ginia O’Han­lon, 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.

Vir­ginia, your lit­tle friends are wrong. They have been af­fected by the skep­ti­cism of a skep­ti­cal age. They do not be­lieve ex­cept they see. They think that noth­ing can be which is not com­pre­hen­si­ble by their lit­tle minds. All minds, Vir­ginia, whether they be men’s or chil­dren’s, are lit­tle. In this great uni­verse of ours, man is a mere in­sect, an ant, in his in­tel­lect as com­pared with the bound­less world about him, as mea­sured by the in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­ble of grasp­ing the whole of truth and knowl­edge.

Yes, Vir­ginia, there is a Santa Claus. He ex­ists as cer­tainly as love and gen­eros­ity and de­vo­tion ex­ist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its high­est beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Vir­ginias. There would be no child­like faith then, no po­etry, no ro­mance to make tol­er­a­ble this ex­is­tence. We should have no en­joy­ment, ex­cept in sense and sight. The ex­ter­nal light with which child­hood fills the world would be ex­tin­guished.

Not be­lieve in Santa Claus! You might as well not be­lieve in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chim­neys on Christ­mas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? No­body sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that nei­ther chil­dren nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies danc­ing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. No­body can con­ceive or imag­ine all the won­ders there are un­seen and un­see­able in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rat­tle and see what makes the noise in­side, but there is a veil cov­er­ing the un­seen world which not the strong­est man, nor even the united strength of all the strong­est men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, po­etry, love, ro­mance, can push aside that cur­tain and view and pic­ture the su­per­nal beauty and glory be­yond. Is it all real? Ah, Vir­ginia, in all this world there is noth­ing else real and abid­ing.

No Santa Claus? Thank God, he lives, and lives for­ever. A thou­sand years from now, Vir­ginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will con­tinue to make glad the heart of child­hood.

Vir­ginia O’Han­lon (of ‘Yes Vir­ginia, There is a Santa Claus’ fame).

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