Monday, June 17

Christmas: A new Hope


DECEMBER and the following January have always been special to me as I would receive presents twice in quick succession!

I was born lucky as my birthday fell 10 days after Christmas, and grew up expecting gifts during those two months.

Similarly, I am sure Christmas holds different meanings for countless others. For those who don’t partake in celebrations, Christmas is another run-of-the-mill federal holiday that offers a short respite from work. Even for those who do celebrate the holiday, Christmas definitely has a variety of significance and emotions attached to it.

For many, it might be a day where they receive gifts or treat themselves. For others, it might be a time to party and create memories. The meaning that Christmas brings to me and many others ebbs and flows with the circumstances we find ourselves in each year.

This year, the word “hope” tugs at my heartstrings. 2016 has been a year pockmarked by unexpected catastrophes, escalated acts of terrorism, the exposure of the dirty underbelly of politics around the world, and the worsening conflicts in Syria, Myanmar, and other countries.

As cliché as it sounds, I sincerely do “hope” for a better 2017. This year should serve as a solemn reminder – like many other instances in recorded history – of the imperfect nature of our world and the alarming familiarity that violence and oppression have come to represent.

The events of this year help us remember our world is still in a perpetual state of “work in progress” and urge us not to rest on our laurels any longer. Despite our progress in promoting moderation and values of tolerance, bigotry and misogyny still prevail to this day and shall remain an active part of the human equation.

We all have a part in making our country and the world better. Therefore, I have personally resolved to make this Christmas less about myself and more about others. We in today’s world can become habitually drawn to the intricacies of our own lives and be put off by the turmoil we see all around us. However, this introversion does not help at all. In order to make the world a better place, we have to start acting like better people.

Kindness and generosity is a great place to start this Christmas. Already, Malaysians are known for their propensity for charity – Malaysia was ranked in the top 10 most generous countries for 2015 by the Charity Aid Foundation’s (CAF) World Giving Index.

The heart-warming story of the ‘Pokemon soft toy uncle’ is a good reminder of the kindness of Malaysians across the board. An elderly man named Mr David found himself burdened with 250 Pokemon soft toys because a customer who ordered them failed to turn up and collect them.

However, his story took a turn for the better after going viral on social media. Within a few days, his soft toys were completely sold out as kind-hearted Malaysians came to his rescue. This Christmas, we can do the same. Being generous is part of our mandate to be good citizens of the world as we should do our part to spread blessings to those who need it the most.

Also, contrary to common conception, giving makes us happier than receiving. In a study conducted 10years ago, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, USA, discovered that when people give to charities, it activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. Biologically, it is also believed that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain.

We can also be more tolerant and understanding this Christmas. As the world (and even Malaysia) becomes increasingly more divided, we must become contrarians to this worrying trend. This Christmas, let’s celebrate with strangers, people of different faiths, refugees, as well as estranged family and friends.

In today’s political and socioeconomic landscape, it’s important to not turn away people of different origins and beliefs. We can’t possibly avoid interacting with people who are different from us as we all have to share space. However, we become more receptive to new perspectives, ideas, and understanding by opting to be non-judgemental and less critical.

This allows us a positive avenue to widen our horizons and outlook on life. In learning about how other’s live their lives, we may even end up introducing new experiences into our lives and making new friends that enrich our existence. These effects also apply when we allow others to learn how we live our lives.

On forgiveness, we should make a concerted effort to offer the olive branch to estranged lovers, family, and friends as well as those who have wronged us. There is no middle ground when it comes to forgiveness. Either we forgive and move on or hold on to feelings of bitterness and anger.

There is a tremendous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed. Chronic anger puts us into a perpetual fight-or-flight mode, increasing the risk of illness. Conversely, forgiveness leads to lower stress levels, improving health.

Beyond the physical, however, forgiveness allows us to seize control of our emotions and feelings. By deciding to forgive, we exert influence on our mental well-being as well as offering a positive example of the effects of compassion towards others.

This Christmas, let’s become the gifts rather than receiving them.

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