The Golden Rule of Christmas

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou.

A new year begins.

There is a wonderful book by Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and that title describes how I often feel when Christmas comes round each year. Having been imprinted on a cold, snowy Christmas for years as a child, I have now, for many, many years  been living in a climate where Christmas is usually sweltering hot and somehow it still never does feel quite ‘right’.  For me, along with the current joys, this time of year is also always a time of unexplained ‘homesickness’ of Christmases past.

This Christmas was special with a new baby and a toddler to share the joys of our family’s Christmas and it is comforting to know that I am now contributing to the future memories of these little people …and how important it is in making good lifetime memories of love and happiness of how Christmas is supposed to ‘feel’, just as I experienced with my family all those years ago when I was a toddler having my first Christmases.

It seems to be popular nowadays for people to denounce religion and wear their atheism as some sort of badge of courage or perhaps, identity. Meanwhile, Time Magazine has declared Pope Francis as the Person of the Year in its annual feature issue for the closing of 2013.

And Christmas, too, seems to have a life outside religion with these declared atheists joining in Christmas cheer, Christmas holidays and Christmas gift giving. So far, Christianity is holding its own against the political correctness that tries to remove Christmas cheer from our classrooms and streetscapes in some sort of misguided attempt to sacrifice a country’s religious customs for fear they will ostracize non-Christians.

We went to the children’s Christmas Eve service of our local church. It was a lovely hour of children re-telling the Christmas story with humour and good will, and the church was packed with people and families of all ages, and all colours in a welcoming environment of Christian song, prayer and fellowship. It felt good to be there. It’s hard to explain but there is a ‘niceness’ to that experience. I felt sorry for the many little children in today’s society who won’t get a chance to experience a church service because their parents will never take them.

At the end of the day, religion is not about hellfire and brimstone, or about insisting that religious parables must take precedence over scientific fact. Religion is more about teaching the ethic of reciprocity, the golden rule that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us.

My daily newspaper today had a disturbing story about the rising statistics of primary school aged children now involved in crime in our State, from graffiti to theft, arson, home invasions, even a murder. The worrying statistics are being blamed by poor parenting, violent video games and children growing up ‘too fast’ with adult concepts.

There seems to be an anger, an unrest, and a spitefulness across much of our society and I think the golden rule goes a long way towards addressing this dilemma. We need to give kids (and adults, too) the skills to get outside of their own heads and understand the feelings of other people so that they can understand and relate to the consequences of their actions.

In my community we have pathways and roads that have to be simultaneously shared by pedestrians, cyclists and cars. If all these groups approach their journey with the golden rule in mind, I suspect we would not have the element of selfish rudeness and recklessness that sometimes occurs.

In my community we have wonderful playgrounds for children to enjoy. One day I had to go to three different playgrounds to avoid ignorant dog owners exercising their dogs  and ignoring the signs which declare their pets should be on a lead at all times. If these people were familiar with the golden rule they would instantly appreciate that their pet should be on a lead with small children present at a playground.

It’s now a new year and it holds a wealth of promise for us all.

Let’s be grateful that our hearts can hold love, let’s try to listen and learn more than we ‘tell’, let’s be good parents, grandparents and friends, and let’s always do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves in the cathedral of our being.

As the piece of string gets shorter as we travel life’s many roads, let’s move away from those self-centred people who are only about themselves, focussed only on their own achievements and needs, and instead find the many kind, truthful, and thoughtful people who are driven by ideas, creativity , helping  and sharing with others.

Let’s identify the ‘good people’ in our lives and then try and help our little people create the qualities those good people have.

Oh would some power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns, poem To a Louse

Jan Smith

Children Learn What They Live

Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a classic poem on child-rearing ‘children learn what they live’ in the 1950s that was distributed to millions of families by a different form of social media for those days, advertising for a baby formula!

In the 1970s Nolte copyrighted her famous words and they live on today in a range of posters, cards, bookmarks  and also expanded into a wonderful little book, co-authored with Rachel Harris, that should be given to every new parent.

Nolte’s wise words came to mind when I read the newspaper front page the other day reporting that free- to- air TV stations now want to screen adults-only shows 24/7, and end the current ban on adult-only programming until children’s bedtimes at 8.30pm.

The TV industry argument was rational, but sad. They claim the ban is now irrelevant because parents have access to DVDs, parental locks, and can simply focus the kids’ eyes on the two dedicated children’s programming channels provided by the ABC.

I agree with Australian Council on Children and the Media chief executive, Barbara Biggins blasting this proposal as ‘outrageous’. As she points out, not all children grow up in families where parents are vigilantly watching over what their kids are seeing on tv.

And where is our society’s preoccupation with sex, violence and violent sex coming from, anyway?

Yesterday, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I found myself watching one of the formula forensic medicine crime programmes that was all about a doctor being forced to operate and remove people’s spleens and replace them with a bomb, so that an ex-soldier could be a suicide bomber on a plane as payback for all his countrymen who did not give a damn about his now broken life, and the sacrifice he and his fellow soldiers had made in Iraq. The doctor’s daughter was a diabetic being withheld her medication to force the doctor to comply as a subplot and the broken people behind this plot had decided to let her die, too, because after killing the first person, the second one becomes easier.

I  began to ask myself  why was I watching this stuff… was it really enjoyable entertainment? On one level it raises an awareness of the pain and suffering that leads to mental derangement, it resolves an horrific circumstance with a happy ending and presumably there is the emotional creativity of the actors to appreciate… but does life have to be that gory and graphic for this message and artistic engagement?

Contrast this with that wonderful programme Compass on the ABC, which recently featured a story about people’s resilience when bad things happen to them. The story traced the personal journeys of two quite different people… a woman who had been severely burned in a bushfire in the 1970s , and a young man who has recently broken his neck in an accident. The stories of how these two people fought the personal horror of what had happened and tapped into an inner strength were remarkable and inspiring in equal measure.

We have a lot of depressed, angry, violent and unhappy souls in our society if the tv, newspaper, and social media are any indication.

Closer to home, I was dumbfounded to see ‘twitters’ last week from a Local Government councillor in my community commenting that:

1960’s copper wires do not provide enough speed to make porn interesting. I need NBN.

And also,

 ‘Real Solutions’ can be achieved by electing a Liberal Government or masturbating. I suspect some promises are the latter.

 

This man is often mentioning the school children he counsels as part of his employment, so I question his maturity in thinking that writing on social media about downloading porn and masturbating is at all humorous, or being a good role model to young people, or reflective of his community position as an elected Local Government councillor.

Children do learn what they live, and the onus is on our adult society to set the values for the kinds of adults we want them to grow up to be.

It’s also never too late to have a happy childhood… and set some new examples for ourselves to follow.

Tomorrow is RU OK? Day — a reminder to regularly ask ‘are you ok?’ of family and friends who might be going through a tough time.

Bad things are always going to happen to good people, no one escapes, but if we instill the right values in our children they’ll have a better chance of having that confidence, courage and resilience they’ll need to weather life’s storms, without becoming angry, violent, jealous, or spiteful.

If anything, I think we should be putting more family-friendly programming on our free-to-air TV.

Jan Smith