WE AREN’T FORCED INTO DOING GOOD. Nor are we legislated or coerced into performing a kind act for others. Rather, we are inspired into it. It might be a holiday song wafting through a favourite store, a Salvation Army kettle attended by a citizen, seeing our kids start decorating the tree, watching a favourite holiday movie, or standing silent as a family looking over a manger scene in our local park – all of these moments, and so many more, arc us towards kindness, generosity, to be more accepting, even committed to being a more compassionate people. But somewhere along the journey we encounter others who call out the best in us and we end up being better as a result.
And whether we can explain it or not, we receive more impulses in this direction during the Christmas holidays than at any other time of year. Images and music abound – presents, family, singing, neighbours expressing their best wishes, lights, shopping, giving, and receiving. But back of even all that comes a simple challenge that prompts us to get outside of ourselves and, for a brief time at least, move in a more aspirational direction – “Peace on earth towards those of goodwill.”
Let’s be honest: our world isn’t as we would wish it to be at the moment. All the death, terrorism, flooding, poverty, political division and economic dysfunction have created within us the sense that whatever isn’t right in our world isn’t improving either. None of this do we feel we can control.
We continue to put up with practices that we now believe aren’t helping us – dysfunctional politics, capitalism without jobs, devouring the natural order, the underperformance of institutions. We have kept rationalizing lesser evils, hoping they’ll somehow add up to the greater good. But in the end it’s all just bad math and we know it. At some point we have to say “no” to all the compromising and just live for the good of others.
Yet into this world comes this irrepressible attractiveness towards that which is good. It remains within us despite a darkened sky and it comes to shine during the holiday season. For reasons not fully known to us we prove willing to see the world through a child’s eyes, and in such moments the potential to see the world as we wish it to be gets easier. Families grow closer, neighbours get friendlier, and communities embrace an extended sense of compassion. Yes, there are the hurts and difficult memories, depression and misgiving, but overall we as a people trend more effectively towards the hopeful.
When the problem’s of the world’s life, huge in their reach and complex in their workings, weigh upon our collective conscience, we nevertheless possess the ability to move out from under such shadows towards hope. Repeatedly, we encounter Canadians who inspire us to sacrifice, to accept something new, to give back, to forgive, and during the Christmas season we see such actions more than any other time of year. It’s not merely magical but motivational, and we become better, even if only for a season.
Across Canada there are people who are upping their game, living lives that extend beyond their normal carefulness.
Faced with her final Christmas, Holocaust victim Anne Frank witnessed evil unlike anything the world had ever endured. Despite that, she looked around her at the remarkable acts of courage and kindness by average people under great strain and wrote in her diary: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Her hope didn’t reside in her freedom but in her values and she elevated the world by holding on to her values until the end.
All that is asked of us is that we live for what we believe in and seek to extend it beyond Christmas to the entire year, and beyond our immediate lives to the entire world. Such is the remarkable allure of goodness. Such is the genius of Christmas.