Give the gift of empathy — it’s not just for Christmas

It’s a sort of a dull pain in the chest.

Akin to a love pang in reverse — a feeling of being overwhelmed financially and emotionally. You are everywhere; on the streets, at home; looking at people with arms full of shopping bags, seeing TV ads for happy families sitting in front of roaring fires, opening exquisitely-wrapped gifts.

We are fed such an image of Christmas perfection that it is easy to be blind to the realities for many of us, frightened, alone, impoverished, shocked by the unaffordability of Christmas. Seeing many others enjoying themselves while you cannot afford to. Stumbling along, in pain and in anguish.

There is no worse feeling than that of being excluded, of feeling an outsider, especially at this time of the year when you begin to turn on yourself because you cannot match up to the ideal.

In essence, Christmas does the opposite of what is is supposed to achieve; more people feel left out and overwhelmed at Christmas than at any other time of the year. The pressures to conform are greater; the reluctance to disappoint is overwhelming, and for many, the ability to cope drives people into distraction and fear.

Behind the shiny facade this Christmas, we live in a country where 3,000 children will wonder how Santa Claus will find them in a hotel room without a chimney; where a generation has been priced out of owning their own set of chimneys. There is a hidden poverty that does not show itself to us all.

Our gift to each other this Christmas should be the gift of time and empathy. The hardest thing in the world now is to tell yourself to slow down, to sit down, to chat, to share, to play a game with a child, to chat with someone for whom a few words means a lot. Switch off the outside world this Christmas. Put your smartphone on the mantelpiece. Get down on the floor and share the games; take it easy on the booze; the world that’s boozy and hazy for you might be hellish for someone else who just wants your sober company. Don’t let your children have Christmas memories that revolve around drunkenness and rows.

And don’t get stressed out over the practicalities of what is mainly a big dinner on a long weekend.

Time changes the way we see the world; age and wisdom bring increased levels of empathy; But often when we discover this, it is too late. Imagine how different the world would be if our core subjects at school were reading, writing, arithmetic, and empathy. Empathy is about finding echoes and shadows of another person in yourself, imagining how they are, and adapting your own life for the betterment of theirs.

Those of us who can afford to help should do so — all around you this season will be opportunities for giving.

Give now for the festive season, but give empathy for the full year.

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