We see them at the shelters, at the food kitchen and all over Downtown mingling amidst the Christmas cheer and lighting. The poor and the homeless seem out of place in scenes of Christmas nostalgia.
For them there are no candy cane lanes, no sleigh of reindeer or Christmas wishes from Santa’s lap.
Their Christmas spirit is spent on finding a warm bed, a hot plate of food and companionship. Throw the grieving in this lot, too. Christmas lights and decorated homes and storefronts aren’t strong enough to cut through the gloom of holidays missing a loved one.
Christmas for them comes in the form of a hug, a hand up and some understanding. Christmas spirit is found in being kind and understanding, not in a string of lights or blow-up Santas and snowmen. It’s not found in fighting for last-minute bargains or driving rudely to get to said sales.
Everyone is dealing with something besides Christmas this time of year. Be kind, be understanding, be courteous and let that be your Christmas gift to many in need of those things this year.
“A thousand words leave not the same deep impression as does a single deed,” Henrik Ibsen, a famed Norwegian playwright, once wrote.
You’ve heard it said that many people are poor and needy through faults of their own. They’re lazy, hate rules and merely want to live off the system.
There’s a psychological concept for that type of belief. It’s called “fundamental attribution error” and is explained as a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character while excusing our own behavior and hardships based on circumstances.
For example, if an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you tend to view yourself as a victim of bad fortune. Others are seen as frivolous money-wasters throwing their cash away on the new phone or multiple lattes.
According to author Maia Szalavitz, who wrote an essay in The Guardian on what has gone wrong, hard work and a good education used to be a sure bet for upward mobility, at least among some groups of people.
Americans born in the 1940s had a 90% chance of doing better economically than their parents did, but those born in 1980 have only 50% chance of doing so.
“As the dream has faded, however, its effects have not. Several elements of normal psychology combine to keep many across the economic spectrum convinced that the rich and the poor deserve what they get — with exceptions made, of course, mainly for oneself,” Szalavitz said.
Seeing someone use food stamps in line at Walmart while talking on a cellphone and buying beer or wine makes some people angry. But it’s easy to surmise something from afar. You don’t know if the alcohol was to soothe grief or pain from loss or whether or not they were buying something special to celebrate a birthday. Who knows the reason? And more importantly, is it any of your business?
It isn’t up to us to decide who deserves favor or blessing. It’s up to someone who sees more than we do or can. Our job is to just be kind and considerate.
A smile and a small act of kindness, like taking cookies to your local fire department, taking flowers to a nurses’ station at a nursing home or hospital or paying for someone in line behind you at the drive-thru or grocery store can do wonders in making someone’s Christmas, at least letting others know that kindness and the Christmas spirit still exists.