I have no words to express my confusion at why people in the US who are victims of another’s violent act cannot automatically receive the treatment they need, but are reduced to begging via fundraising websites. As someone said thoughts and prayers are free, what these people need is a right to healthcare.
Copyright: Chris McGowan
Niki’s campaign to raise $250 to buy winter clothing for a teenage boy whose mum is struggling fits so well with my latest post The Gift of Kindness At Christmas that I had to reblog it. Please help her achieve her goal of giving this family a much-needed boost this Christmas. All donations however small are gratefully received. Just click on the photo in her post to be taken to the GoFundMe website and leave your special message for this family.
I know there are many many people struggling this Christmas and we often feel overwhelmed and helpless, but this is one family you can help in a very practical way. Thank you for reading.
The Gift of Kindness At Christmas
At Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the seasonal excitement of buying and exchanging often expensive gifts we can’t afford and they don’t really need. We look forward to seeing the faces of our loved ones light up when they open our presents, the all-round smiles say it all. But sometimes it can be just a temporary happiness: the item breaks down, doesn’t fit, goes out of fashion or needs updating, it wasn’t the right model, they already have two… And then the credit card bill often provides one heck of a shock in January.
Many of us are feeling the pinch this year and Christmas can be a worrying time financially. But there are other ways of giving that bring joy and make a positive difference to the lives of the recipients which won’t almost bankrupt us when the festive season is over. There are savings we can make that could also allow us to help others in a small but significant way. (See later in the post for ways of helping others this Christmas).
Do we really need such a big tree, so much alcohol? How much do we overeat and drink only to bemoan the extra pounds on our bodies and the lack of pounds in our pockets? How much rich food gets thrown away?
How many of us buy and post cards and then also wish our friends and relatives ‘Seasons Greetings’ in person or by text or social media as well?! Stamps are expensive but most people have email or can receive texts, we can send our greetings for free with news and photos of the family, for example. There are some lovely animated ecards available, see my suggestions later
Here are some ideas for spreading some Christmas cheer that will hopefully last throughout the year, some can be given as Christmas gifts to those who already have all they need and introduce children to the real message of Christmas: the gift of kindness, compassion and consideration. (For US readers, Tamara at The Purple Almond blog has written a Post listing non-profit companies who sell beautiful gifts and give back to good causes).
- Apart from elderly friends and relatives, we are sending seasonal greetings by email and using the money saved on cards and postage to buy food for our local food bank.
- If you would like to send a more personalised greeting, for £9 a year to http://www.jacquielawson.com you can send as many beautiful animated cards as you like throughout the year.
- The cards we do send will as always be either homemade from recycled items or bought direct from charities so that they receive all the profits. Even if you buy charity cards from stores, they take their cut too so the charities only receive a percentage of the price of the cards.
- Years ago, we realised that colleagues who worked within inches of each other would wish each other a Merry Christmas *and* give everyone an individual card as well. This seemed crazy and we initiated a Christmas whip-round in lieu of cards that would be donated to a local charity which everyone voted on each year, Air Ambulance and the local hospice being favourites.
- This year I have been painting and découpaging rocks to leave on my neighbours’ doorsteps in lieu of cards – link here to see how.
- If you have access to foliage, you can make your own Christmas displays –much cheaper and more satisfying than buying them.
There are many people for whom compassion and kindness would be the best gift of all this Christmas. Often, all that is required is a little thought and some of our time. Perhaps you remember when you were in need but are now able to ‘pass it forward?’
SUPPORT THE ELDERLY & VULNERABLE
- An elderly relative or neighbour, or someone who has recently lost a loved one may appreciate a phone call or visit. Christmas can be particularly difficult for people who are isolated through immobility or having no family nearby or being recently bereaved.
- Perhaps invite an isolated neighbour for Christmas lunch or tea. Check that they have everything they need to see them through the holidays, do they need any shopping or cards posting? If the weather is icy or there has been snow, offer to clear their path.
- Help make a refugee family feel welcome and help them settle into the community.
In the UK, there are 2 organisations that provide advice and friendship for elderly people who could use volunteers and/or donations:
- Volunteers are also needed at food banks and shelters for homeless people.
- A donation will provide a hot Christmas dinner for a homeless person at
It costs £26.08 and they can also have a shower, haircut, health checks, clothes and advice that can potentially set them back on their feet. Even my mum asked me to reserve a dinner on her behalf this year when I told her what I had done.
- A microloan of as little as £15 to
helps individuals or groups in developing countries set up their own businesses. I was given this as a gift one Christmas and each time the loan is paid off, I roll it over so someone else can benefit.
- Oxfam and Good Gifts have catalogues and web sites with life-changing gifts which benefit individuals and small businesses at home and overseas, some at stocking filler prices:
HOMEMADE & HANDMADE
- Homemade gifts, especially from children, are always appreciated. Children learn about giving and not just receiving. For several years when our grandchildren were young, they would give us something of their own, many of which we still have, although one of my husband’s prize gifts from our eldest grand-daughter – a plastic microphone with a loud echo – is permanently hidden away!!
- Older children and adults can make gifts of homemade food: I used to make pickles, shortbread, petits fours, my husband made wine and beer. These days, nut butter, chocolate avocado mousse and raw chocolate truffles may be more likely.
- My daughter knits mittens and fingerless gloves, beanie hats, socks and sleeveless jumpers.
- My son has made kitchen chopping boards from offcuts and fallen trees, as well as belts, wallets and even clocks from discarded bicycle tyres and firehoses.
- Last Christmas, we all made food that contributed to an extended family dinner, which occurs only once a year and was all the more special for that.
How many of us watch the Christmas adverts, look at all the presents we’ve bought and all the money spent on food and complain about the over-commercialisation of Christmas? How many vow that next year we will do it differently?
Make next year, this year.
I wish you all peace, love, health and happiness.
Copyright: Chris McGowan
A Post Election Plea For Compassion & Peace
A year ago, when very new to blogging, I published a post called Compassion is Good for Our Health in the context of negative newspaper and political rhetoric about refugees, homeless poeple, those with disabilities and mental health issues. It was also written against the background of the shootings and bombings in Paris.
I explained how demonstrating acts of compassion is beneficial to our physical as well as our spiritual health.
Then we had the terrorist attacks in Belgium.
In June this year, after the attacks in Orlando, I reposted it. We in the UK had also lost an MP, a campaigner for peace and for human rights, in an attack outside her surgery. The nation was stunned.
Next came Brexit and all the lies and infighting, and there seemed to be an open season on anyone considered non-British, or on benefits and so on. Again. Only more so, and with impunity. These people felt able to be quite open about their views and to express them in the most hurtful and derogatory terms, often along with physical intimidation or even violence, without fear of restraint, recrimination or incarceration.
Now, following the US electoral compaign and vote, and all the online vitriol towards women, minority and vulnerable groups, I find myself revisiting these issues. Videos of High School students carrying Trump posters while chanting about White Power made me feel sick.
I don’t post about politics, this blog is not about that. But all this hate, negativity and lack of compassion is not good for us or for our society. It certainly isn’t good for those who bear the brunt of it, those who already find life challenging.
Twelve months on from that first publication, I can’t believe we have not moved any further forward, but rather it would seem we have taken a huge step backwards. I can only believe like many others that hope and humanity will win out, that – as Chris Martin of Coldplay said very eloquently on The Graham Norton Show recently – once those who feel disenfranchised and ignored have had their voices heard, things will calm down.
Please take a look at my original post. As Ellen Degeneres says, Be Kind To One Another.
(Sorry, I found this on Instagram, I don’t know the source).
Copyright: Chris McGowan
Passing It Forward
Many years ago, a good friend was visiting from overseas with her young daughters. Of course, despite only being September, the weather was wet, grey and chilly. She observed me struggling to dry the family’s clothes on a plastic airer in front of a heating vent on the wall of our tiny kitchen. There was nowhere else to dry them and we had problems with condensation and damp.
My friend insisted on buying us a drier. It made life so much easier and I never forgot her generosity.
Several years later, when our circumstances were much improved, I became aware that another friend, a lone parent with a young child, was in difficulties: her ancient fridge freezer had finally given up the ghost and she had no money to replace it.
I gladly offered to buy her a new one.
I was, as the Americans phrase it, ‘passing it forward’ and it felt good to repay the original act of kindness in this way. I knew the second friend would do the same when she was able.
These gifts were expensive but much-appreciated, they enhanced the lives of the recipients for a very long time.
But it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – or even any money – to Pass It Forward.
Next time you do a clear-out of your wardrobe, your loft, your children’s toys, your shed or garage, think carefully about who might benefit from your passing it on. The local charity shops will welcome clean, useable clothing, toys, kitchenware and so on, many even take small working electrical goods. Playgroups and nurseries are sometimes short of good quality toys, books and play equipment. Women’s Refuges are often crying out for clothing and baby equipment.
We sometimes send books and refurbished bikes to our local Combat Stress centre.
Occasionally, we put an item at our gate with a note saying ‘free if you take it away’ or a serviced secondhand bike with a minimal price on which is donated to our local hospice.
Remember all those times when you were in need and someone helped you out, then pass it forward when your circumstances allow it. It can even just be the giving of your time.
I promise you, the recipient won’t be the only one who benefits.
Copyright: Chris McGowan
Compassion is Good for Our Health
In the light of the terrible mass shooting in Orlando, I decided to reblog the post on compassion and well-being which I adapted after the attacks in Paris at the end of last year. I am not American or gay and I don’t know enough of the facts or the context to feel qualified to write a separate post, other than as a human being horrified by such actions and the ease with which people can obtain weapons and carry out these targeted, violent acts against people just trying to live their authentic lives. My thoughts are the same as after Paris and they are with all those affected by this and other such tragedies. (And today, June 16th, one of our own has had her life cut short and her family has lost a precious woman who worked to improve the lot of others).
When one hurts, we all hurt.
Some of the most poignant and remarkable acts of compassion are often performed by those to whom Fate has dealt some very unlucky cards: children with terminal cancer raising money and awareness from their hospital beds, severely injured veterans taking part in sporting events to raise funds to provide equipment and support for their colleagues, the bereaved parents of a teenage addict providing education and support for young people. It is well-documented that those with the least resources are often the most generous.
Doing something positive to help others can often provide a way out of our own dark place, it can help raise our spirits, lift our heads and enable us to see a way forward.
Expressing compassion and empathy is not only beneficial for the recipient, but for the giver too: being kind produces oxytocin which reduces anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system and helps control the effects of stress. It also stimulates the vegas nerve which controls inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is believed to be a major factor in developing chronic diseases and ageing.
When we help one another, we all benefit.
At this particular time of year, there are many people for whom compassion would be the best gift of all: newly-arrived refugee families being resettled into the community; people rendered homeless through losing a job, their relationship, their home; young people on the street because they are not welcome in their family home; those subject to physical or emotional abuse; elderly or disabled people left isolated, with little support.
Yet recent newspaper headlines, government polemics and negative online comments concerning an ‘influx’ of refugees, fear of potential terrorists based on little else but a person’s cultural or religious background and so on, might lead an alien visitor to Earth to conclude that compassion is currently in short supply. When our circumstances change for the worse, when money is in short supply or illness strikes, when we fear for the safety of our loved ones, it is understandable that our concerns are for our own well-being and that of our families. Life can seem overwhelmingly difficult. There can be little room for considering the lot of others.
But consider recent events in Paris. At an international football match, once fierce national rivals -both teams and fans of all racial and cultural backgrounds – came together, arms around each other and sang La Marseillaise, in a stirring and defiant display of unity reminiscent of the famous scene in the film Casablanca, when French citizens drowned out drunken Nazi singing with a powerful and emotional rendition of their own national anthem.
Ultimately, we are more alike than we are different.
I would like to express my depest condolences to all those affected by these recent events, either directly or indirectly.
I believe that compassion is innate in all of us: when one of us hurts, we all hurt.
Coming together, pooling resources, sharing our time, experience and compassion is how we pull through.
In The Art of Happiness,* HH Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness and happiness is ultimately achieved through compassion for others. It is a principle by which I have tried to live my life.
Compassion is good for our collective health.
*The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by HH The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Easton Press, 1998
Copyright: Chris McGowan
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