Christmas is a season of beautiful lights, parties, gifts, food, family, friends, songs and sentiments. Among the latter “goodwill toward men” is a favorite, and we are urged to keep such sentiments not only during the holiday season but all year round. But what lessons from these sentiments should we really take from December to July?
Often goodwill can mean a general sympathy for others. As self-conscious individuals, we can imagine what it’s like to be in another’s situation. When we see someone else stub their toe, we ourselves wince and cry “Ouch!” When we see someone in misery we want to ease their pain. During the holiday season many think of goodwill means giving food, gifts, donations or making visits to those who are in need.
In some cases – the death of a loved one, sickness, mental illness, the rigors of old age – the cause of suffering might be beyond the individual’s control and our sympathy for them as fellow human beings is quite appropriate as is reminding them with a visit or a gift of the good things still left in life.
In other cases – drug addiction, broken families, poverty – the causes might in part or whole be within one’s power to change. In such cases, true goodwill would mean eliminating the causes, not merely treating the effects. Ultimately it is those who suffer who must show goodwill to themselves. They must appreciate that they have the power to resist that which is harmful to them and to change bad habits. Other persons of goodwill can help such individuals by urging them to hold to the best and highest within themselves, by showing them, especially during this season, what beauty and joy life holds.
One can ask them to imagine future Christmases in which they, who are often the denizens of soup kitchens and homeless shelters, will no longer be objects of charity but self-sufficient, proud and prosperous individuals who will celebrate their regained lives in this most wonderful time of year.
Then they will join the rest of use in practicing a more personal form of goodwill through an active appreciation of those individuals in our lives whom we enjoy, respect, admire and love, not only in December but all year round. These are our colleagues at work; the paperboys, garage parking attendants or others who serve us during the year; neighbors whom we see on the run but with whom we’d really like to spend more time; friends with whom we go to movies, ballgames or shopping malls; relatives with whom we’ve shared important parts of our lives; and those we truly and deeply love – parents, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives.
We will express our goodwill to these individuals in different degrees as they are of personal value to us: small gifts as tokens of appreciation for some; extravagant or extremely thoughtful presents for others; parties for many or intimate meals for others.
Benevolent men and women recognize the value to themselves of living in society with others. They recognize the need to foster a harmony of interests that arises when each individual respects the humanity and independence of others. We each will show appreciation for those we value in our own ways and as others do the same, we will understand why this is indeed the season of goodwill toward men.