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Marc My Words: The greatest changes start with us

Marc My Words… 22 December 2006
Political comment
Marc Alexander
The greatest changes in the world starts with us

Christmas can sometimes bring out the worst in us. Often a time of stress, many of us succumb to ruefully reflecting on our lack of impact on the world; made worse, I suspect, by the temptation of the copious quantities of wine we imbibe as anesthetic to all the overcooked turkeys and ham we're expected to eat.

We're supposed relegate our materialistic hedonism to the backburner while we discourse at length on the true meaning of the yuletide season. All the same and, in contradiction, our stomachs clench at the thought of how disappointed our nearest and dearest will be when they excitedly rush to open the shabby presents we spent hours buying for them. As they feign gratitude we seek solace in yet another product from our vineyards well before the noon starting time on Christmas day. It is after all a time of celebration we kid ourselves.

But interspersed between bouts of forced jollification we are prone to genuine reflection. Are we ahead in this game of life as compared to this time last year? Saddled with another year of memories we often forget all the good that's happened. Important things like whether our families are stronger, more closely knit, or more loving can give way to considerations of whether our careers bombed or bloomed, whether our new car was worth it, or if we'r overdue for another round of botox treatments. The more idealistic of us ruminate over the predicament of the historical moment: is the world safer, fairer, or ecologically in a better place?

We think about what we would like and often the improbability of achieving them. Trivial things seem to predominate and, truth be told, there are plenty of things I would like. To eat whatever I wanted in whatever quantity I wanted, for example, without gaining an ounce would figure high on my list of priorities. So too would be to travel more with my family, to have more patience, be better looking, more wise, witty, and worldly. I'd also never like to struggle in finding a car park ever again, experience another hangover, or to live under another Labour government. Sadly only the last one seems within forceable reach.

Christmas can be a time of extreme selfishness. It's easy to succumb to a melancholic view that although we might matter to friends and family, in the bigger picture we don't count for much. After all, what can one person do in spite of best intentions?

My view, oddly perhaps, is a little more optimistic. Although we can always focus on the downside of anything, we need to remember that each one of us has the power to change every decision we take. From the mundane such as whether we choose to smile or frown, see the funny side or take things personally; or whether we bother to care about others as we would like to care for ourselves. We have a choice. Understanding that is actually quite liberating.

We would all like to improve the things that matter to us. But even if we can't suddenly develop the skills or assets we would want, we can and should start appreciating others who try and do. Kindness costs nothing but achieves a great deal. It makes someone else's life, even for just a moment, better. In return we can feel a sense of contribution and justifiably pat ourselves on the back. Why not? The recognition of that small spark of honoring another person, something we used to call respect, can sometimes lead to incredible consequences.

One such story is that of a man who invested so much of his time at work he forgot to take time to appreciate his own family. On this particular day something happens to him at the office which ignites his long dormant enthusiasm. He rushes home to tell his fourteen year old son what happened. Apparently one of the junior executives came up to him during the lunch hour and presented him with a blue ribbon. When asked what that was for, the younger man said, "you may not know it but you inspire me. I thought I should let you know what effect that has had on me and so I honor your part in my life with this symbol. Perhaps you could pass it on to someone who inspires you."

The father then gave the ribbon to his son saying," I thought about what he said and couldn't think of anyone who inspires me more than you and although I don't often tell you, I'm proud of you and love you."

With that the boy burst into tears. After a while he slowed down enough to say, "I didn't think you cared and I was planning to kill myself. Now that I know what you think of me I don't need to do that."

The story may seem a little trite but it serves to illustrate the point that whether we are aware of it or not, we all individually affect others. The greatest battle isn't what's out there; it's in our own minds. When confronted by alternate possibilities, it's like having two dogs fighting inside us. We don't always know all the consequences but we can certainly choose which dog to feed. In ways that matter most we can all make a difference that counts. We just need the courage to do so.

I wish everyone happy holidays - cheers!


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