I love everything about Christmas; the decorations, the food, the songs, the traditions and rituals. I love walking into shops and hearing Christmas carols playing. I love seeing the Christmas lights at night. I love watching families making time for each other. I love the excitement of people picking out the perfect gift for someone they love. I love all the parties and celebrations. I love that there is always too much food and visitors are always sent home with leftovers. I love how infectious and intoxicating the Spirit of Christmas is. I love how it brings out and celebrates the best parts of humanity. I love that it’s the time of year when many people feel compelled to give and be generous, especially to the homeless and the poor and the lonely. Compassion and generosity is such a beautiful echoing sound at Christmas time, and I can’t get enough of it.
But I do hate than when January 1st comes along, the focus snaps from how we can love and serve others, to how we can love and serve ourselves. What are MY goals for the year? What do I want to achieve? How can I get what I want this year? The homeless and the poor who earned our compassion at Christmas time are once again relegated to their role as bludgers who don’t want to get of their arses and find a job. We no longer want to be compassionate, because compassion requires empathy, and empathy requires that we identify with ‘those people’, and to identify with ‘those people’ is to enter into their sense of hopelessness and despair in an unpredictable and unjust world. It is much easier to blame ‘them’, to point and say that it’s their fault, that they are lazy, and stupid, and morally inferior. It is much easier to do that than to consider that, but for the grace of God, we too could be spending Christmas in a shelter. When I begin the New Year from a position of myself and my needs and my desires; I quickly become contemptuous of the people who are in most need my kindness. I get angry and envious; ‘why should they get a handout? Where’s my handout? What about my needs? No-one ever helps me!’ But when I start from a position of gratitude for the advantages, privileges and opportunities I have; when I start from a position of humility, knowing that my wealth and social status is due more to the colour of my skin and the social class I was born into, than in any innate qualities I possess; I create the space and opportunity for compassion, empathy and kindness to flourish.
I am naturally goal orientated, and I adore stationery, so getting to fill out my goals and dreams in brand new planner is pretty much one of favourite things ever. I break my life up into sections and set goals for myself in each area. Each year I want to be healthier, more focused, and more successful than the year before. But this year, this last year of my twenties, I feel a shift happening in my soul. I no longer want to be goal orientated; I want to be character orientated. I want to be less focused on what I can achieve, and more focused on who I can be. I want to cultivate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Because if my twenties have taught me anything, it’s that goals can easily be derailed by circumstances beyond my control. I could finally get my degree, only to find there are no jobs available for me in that sector. I could find that the demands of my family mean I can’t pursue certain opportunities. I could swiped out by car tomorrow and live the rest of my life on a disability pension, mentally and physically unable to work, or volunteer or even able to look myself. When I place my sense of worth in my achievements, that prospect is terrifying. But character transcends circumstances. It doesn’t matter how much or little I have in my bank account, I can still practice the art of gratitude and generosity. It doesn’t matter what is going on in my world, I can still choose to be kind, and compassionate, and gentle. It doesn’t matter if all my hopes and dreams and goals turn to dust, my life can still have worth and value and impact.
Kindness is so much more than just an act; it’s an attitude. When I cultivate an attitude of kindness, I can smile at the grumpy sales assistant who is rude to me, I can forgive the person who cut me off at traffic, and I stop myself from buying into the hate rhetoric surrounding minority groups. I challenge my assumptions and check my privilege. I ask myself ‘Who I am kind to?’ Is it only people who look, and act and think like me? Am I only kind to people I like, and think are worthy of my kindness? Am I able to be kind to the little refugee girl, but hard-hearted towards her father? Am I understanding towards those who are off work because of a physical injury, but impatient if they are off because of a mental illness? Am I compassionate towards all single mums, or only those who don’t have too many kids, and only to one father, and don’t have any tatts, and work part time… Am I truly able to say that I kind to people even it’s hard and uncomfortable? Am I able to be kind to those who are ungrateful, or lazy, or undeserving, who have made some bad choices, and are just different? Or am I only kind when there is no cost?
Sure there will be times when kindness is not easy. When people take advantage, are ungrateful, or our best intentions somehow make the situation worse. But anything worth having involves risk. The risk of being goal driven is failure, loss, fatigue, burn out and frustration, and I was always prepared to pay that cost if it meant achieving my dreams. So why should the cost of kindness be viewed as unreasonable and excessive? I choose what I invest in, and an investment is always a risk, but we take risk because we believe that the hope of success outweighs the risk of failure. And I believe that the rewards of cultivating kindness in my soul far outweighs the risk.
So this Christmas, as you indulge in the kindness and generosity of the season, consider carrying that gift with you into the New Year. Consider making a new type of New Year’s resolution; one that focuses a little more on the person you want to be, and little less on what you can achieve. And I hope that you want be someone who wants cultivate a spirit of kindness, because the world needs a lot more of those.