Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Holiday Gift Can Be the One We Don't Know We Gave

The Winter Holidays are a time of discovery.

Specifically, a time of self-discovery.  If we take a moment to do so, we all learn just a little bit about ourselves.  The problem, though, is that in modern society, it's hard to do that.

We feel rushed.  

We become more and more stressed.  Christmas turns into a time of panicking about what we're giving to whom, and how quickly we can get that done.  Road traffic volume increases, and we find ourselves shouting at "those drivers" that are making our lives so difficult.  We get in line to buy our prized piece of electronics that was created, in large part, by cruel child labor and poor working conditions for adults, never pausing to consider that the low prices we pay are due to money these businesses don't have to pay for that labor.

We don't think about that, because we can't see it.  

Out of sight, out of mind.  But it happens, and it happens pretty frequently. 

I'm not saying this to point fingers at the heartless consumer - I'm one of those people, quite frankly.  I love my technology.  I mean, every single piece I write uses technology.  I'm just as guilty as everyone else.

Rather, I say it because it needs to be noticed.  If we don't take notice of something, it can't change.  It's easy for us to repeat mistakes if we're ignorant of them.

And that brings me back to the beginning.

The Holiday season is a time of self-discovery.  The hectic nature of this season gives us a glimpse of what we're like under pressure. 

Are we the type of people that are so rushed that we cut off traffic as we hurry to give our money to corporations?  Are we the type of people that take our time, realizing that we'll get there eventually, so there's no need to rush (therefore angering that guy that's about to cut us off)? 

In the course of writing this blog, I've learned that every moment is precious, and that every little thing we do effects someone in some way.  We don't always see what effect our actions have, but we can't ignore that they make a difference.

Especially our emotional responses to events.  

A simple smile can be just what someone needs during this season to keep them from bowing to the difficulties our self-imposed shopping marathon brings.  A comforting hand on the shoulder, given with a smile, can give a stranger who is near bursting with frustration a moment to pause and reflect.

What about - god forbid - allowing that other guy grab that hot toy of the season, while you get something else for a special child in your life?  Trust me:  A four year old won't care if you get something different. 

It's not always easy to do things for others during this chaotic season, I know. 

But we need to try, both for them and for us.  A life without sacrifice of some sort is an empty one.  This season is about giving.  Corporations and media have transformed it into a season of giving high priced, ever worthless, gifts, but it doesn't have to be that way.

We can give of ourselves, and that sort of giving is longer lasting.

Take for instance, that first month that I lived in Minnesota.  It was tough.  I knew nobody at all, and had no clue where to find anything.  I was completely, socially, and even emotionally lost.  Nobody offered to help me find my way, and nobody reached out in friendship.  It was, perhaps, the worst Christmas season that I ever experienced.

Then, one day an immigrant from Somalia saw me wandering around the community center, trying to find something to do with my daughter so that at least she could enjoy herself.  He recognized that I was lost, and came over and told me about something happening at the library that afternoon that she may enjoy.

I never asked for his help.  He gave it without needing me to ask, and I'll always remember that he reached out to pull me from my confused and miserable haze of confusion.

He gave of himself, and he didn't have to.  

He helped me because he was a wonderful person.  He never even gave me his name, which tells me that it was no great struggle for him.  He simply wanted to help.  He saw my pain, and made it his goal to eradicate this misery.  This one action took only a moment, and was simple... yet no one else had taken the time. 

We all need to be a little like him.  

We need to give of ourselves while expecting nothing in return.  It makes a difference.  Our families and friends are important - overwhelmingly so - but so are the strangers around us.  That one small bit of help could mean all the world to someone. 

I know this doesn't seem like my normal blog posts... where the heck is the environmental lesson here?  Well, there's not one.  Not really. 

Rather, today's post is about social responsibility. 

It's about the need to do something for others.  The more you do for others, the more they'll do in turn.  You teach by example, not by lecturing and giving facts.

If you want to 'save the world', you need to start by doing something for the people around you: not because it's the right thing to do, but because they matter... even if we don't know anything about them.  Everything a person does makes some sort of difference.

What will you do?

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