‘Tis the season to be jolly.
‘Tis also the season to do massive amount of business, if you are Best Buy, Amazon, or Macy’s.
And, if you happen to be a slightly plump turkey, ’tis the season to keep a very low profile indeed, and hope to go unnoticed.
Some of us may spend time helping at a food bank. We might go to church, and say a prayer for those less fortunate than us. We might even send a donation off to Care or the Red Cross, vaguely aware of the incredible inequalities in our world. If you do any of this things, I bow to you.
Sometimes when we see all the crazy things that happen in our world, out of the corner of an eye on the television, it can be overwhelming. But being part of creating a more compassionate, fair, sharing and caring world doesn’t have to start with huge earth-changing gestures. It can begin with what is close and available.
Here is a little fun challenge (and trust me here, it is more fun than it seems at the beginning) to take into the Holidays with you.
Connect with someone serving you: in a restaurant, at an airport, in a bank or a shop. When it feels appropriate, and they are not super-stressed, you can ask questions. A good place to start is “What’s your name?” “Where are you from? Do you enjoy doing this work?” And then to the most important question, “What is your passion? What are you really excited about? What would you most like to be doing with your life?”
Use a social media site like Facebook to seek out someone in a country you know nothing about. Tajikistan, Mongolia, Iraq or Afghanistan might be good candidates. Send a Facebook message, and ask if you could have a live chat together. Ask questions. “What is your life like there? What are your dreams? What gives you pleasure? What is frustrating?”
(Just like a video game, the challenge gets more difficult as you progress).
Connect with someone begging on the street. It is easy enough to toss a quarter to a homeless person. But if you are ready for a challenge, it can go much further. Take a few minutes to sit down – right there on a pavement. Or better still, invite that homeless person to a cafe, and buy him or her a coffee and something to eat. Ask questions. “Tell me about your life… You must have had some bad luck at some point. What was your family like? Were there things that went wrong, and worked out different that you hoped and expected?” Be curious. And if you have some fears about this, be brave also. I have spent lots of time with people living on the streets. No one is going to hurt you, especially when you are in a public place.
Find someone whose opinions and beliefs are as completely different from yours as possible. If you are pro-choice, of course this would mean seeking out a pro-life lobbyist. If you are all about gun control, go talk to your local NRA chapter. You get the picture? Go to ask questions, not to preach your own point of view. You can be honest: it makes it more risky. You can be straight up and say, “I have beliefs that are different from yours, but I really want to understand more how people think who are different than me.”
During the era of the Iraq war, for example, I was extremely opposed to American foreign policy. It appeared to me to be an illegal invasion, all about oil. But that was just my point of view. I used to travel backwards and forwards between the United States and Germany at that time, so there were frequently service men and women on the flight with me, sometimes even in the next seat. As I learned to listen and to dialogue, I discovered that there were other points of view completely different from my own. I discovered that I can make the world a better place not by winning an ideological war, but by learning to listen.
This is the big league. Make an arrangement to visit somebody in prison. This may take a little time to organize, so be creative. At least you can make the first step, to contact local authorities and find how if it can be done. You might also be able to visit somebody who is out on parole, but it is important that they have committed a crime which you consider to be morally unforgivable. In just the same way, go to the meeting to ask questions, to find out the forces which lead somebody to do something they may be later regret for the rest of their lives.
You and me and everyone we know, we tend to think that the world will be made a better place if we could just eradicate the infidels, and fill the world with good guys like us. Everybody thinks that, whatever their point of view. The more grey hairs I get in my beard, the more I am learning to recognize that what ails us the most is our habit of “othering,” of making someone else the villain in the story. We can, all of us, antidote “othering” with simple practices that challenge our comfort zones.
Every challenge like this needs some kind of a prize. I just came out with a new book. You can find it on amazon. It’s called “Better than Sex,” and so far it seems to have earned only 5 star reviews. I’ll give you an electronic copy of the book for free, if you complete any three of these challenges by December 31st, and report it in the comments area below.
If you complete all five, I’ll give you a book, and a one-on-one coaching session with me.
Have a Happy Holidays, and congratulations on whatever you are doing to create a saner, more connected world.