"I'm not sitting across from her", I can remember her saying quietly, as she stood at the Christmas Dinner table. Recognizing the need to be comfortable, she quickly shifted her position so she wasn't forced to "look her in the eye", throughout the meal. Breathing a sigh of relief, she relaxed as did everyone else.
Aaah the family Christmas Dinner. We can laugh at this scenario because - let's be real - we've all been there. It's the place we not only gather for a great meal, it's the place that unresolved conflicts seem to rear their lovely and not-so-pretty heads. Tension and stress often builds, well in advance, as we do our best to be "civil" to one another. How sad I often think, that the very relationships that are meant to support and elevate us, often bring us down. Holding our spirits captive and deprived of joy, not only at Christmas, but throughout our lives.
Knowing this is something we have all faced and will face, what if we were to create a new tradition by giving the gift of forgiveness to ourselves and others?
The Gift of Forgiveness
Will you Give the Homeless a Home in your Heart this Christmas?
I can remember our encounter like it was yesterday. He looked up at me timidly, afraid to look me in the eye. In a trembling voice he asked, "Spare any change, ma'am?" I responded, "I'm sorry Sir, I wish I could, but unfortunately I don't have any with me today." Smiling he said, "that's ok your acknowledgement is payment enough." With tears in my eyes, I walked away somewhat humbled by the gift he had given me. I made a mental note "to always carry some change" just in case I would see him or others in the same predicament, again.
During the Holiday Season, as we run from one place to another, we will pass people like this man. Cold and hungry, they will persist in their request for change, asking one person after another. Many will walk by, some will reach into their pockets and a precious few, will reach into their hearts. Those who fall into the latter category will be giving the gift of acknowledgement - that priceless gift that is wrapped up in kindness and tied with dignity.
We have many leadership lessons to learn from people who are presently homeless, not the least of which is humility. Here are a few more worth sharing:
1. Be compassionate:
We must remember to not judge the homeless as "less than" or condemn them for being on the streets. There are stories upon stories of people whose lives were changed in an instant, by tragedy. People like the former executive of Shell Oil who's wife and daughters were killed in a car accident. People who through adversity and/or substance abuse, landed there. People who were just one paycheque away from losing their jobs and did. All of them with one thing in common, their humanity. Let's remember that, for one day it could be you.
2. Preserve their dignity:
Though we've all heard stories about people who do choose to live on the streets, far too often mental illness re-located them there. With current stats of 1 out of 4 people suffering from mental illness, it's not surprising that those without a support system end up being homeless. We must strive to do our very best as human beings, to preserve their dignity and to treat them with respect. Those who do will be doubly rewarded.
3. Remember, there are great teachers and leaders amongst us:
Closer to home, my Uncle was once an English teacher who taught at a very prestigious private boys school in Toronto. After a series of difficult life circumstances, mental illness and hard times, he ended up on the street. He went on to create Poetry Canada Review, a newspaper of the heart reporting on what really matters. It was also the first newspaper where Canadian poets could post and share their work. He also published three poetry books and won several international awards. Sometimes people must hit rock bottom before their gifts are discovered and they can then rise.
And so, as we move forward with our gift buying, let's remember to have an open and humble heart. Let's remember that every one is somebody's child. Let's give of ourselves by taking the time to acknowledge those less fortunate than ourselves. Let's reach into our hearts and show others that they matter and in turn, honour our fellow man. If we do, we will not only lift their spirits we will elevate our own, not only at Christmas, but always.
And then perhaps the next time someone asks us to: "spare any change?", we can take pride in knowing that we were in fact, the change. Fellow leaders amongst us.
Lead with compassion. Make a difference. Leave a legacy.
Leadership Presence: Do You Qualify?
Kimberley is an inspirational speaker, seminar leader and executive coach. She inspires people to become genuine leaders and in turn, the kind of person others are inspired to emulate.