At this time of the year, we indulge. Not just in mince pies, gingerbread and in endless trays of cookies, but also in a jovial spirit — a sense of community, a sense of warmth and of sharing.
Even after the most abysmal year, we rally together to help each other out, give back to local organizations and travel long lengths to be with our families. There’s a certain sense of humanity that arises each holiday season. And it’s wonderful to witness.
But why are we so Scrooge-like for the rest of the year? Why does our optimism fade? Why does our sense of community surrender to our individual needs? And why does our good nature disappear?
Of course, these are sweeping generalizations; and yes, there are those who still retain that spirit beyond the holidays. But those seem like rare stories. Right?
In a year that’s been defined by economic disasters, insane weather systems, political upheaval and growing disparity, it’s easy to lose the holiday cheer and feel burdened by all that is wrong in the world. Every one of us does at some point or another.
But, the pleasant surprises of my job are that I get to hear stories of construction, not destruction, regularly. And they consistently remind me that we need to give gifts each holiday that go far beyond December. We need to invest in these doers rather than crumbling under a tower of material gifts.
Each holiday season can be a time to think, what can I give to my community, to my family and to my world that will last ’til next year or the year after or even longer — and no, jewelry isn’t exactly what I was thinking. But nice thought.
Let me share with you why I’m largely so optimistic (and sometimes misunderstood as naive). Because in my email inbox, I get stories from local teachers who are working hard to preserve the arts in their classrooms (even in a time of endless budget cuts), from recent graduates who couldn’t find work so decided to set up their own social enterprise that beautifies their city.
Also, from young lawyers who are forgoing the handsome profit margins and catering their services to social businesses at low cost, from technology enthusiasts who are innovating on frugal budgets for mass markets (or the other 90 percent, as they say), and from young entrepreneurs who are revamping the face of America’s hardest-hit city, Detroit.
When you hear of the strides that ordinary (but extraordinary) citizens are making daily, though imperfect and flawed many times, the worries begin to wane away.
For instance, consider the story of “in our backyards” (ioby), a project that came from three recent graduates who had an affinity for the environment.
They moved to NYC and found that environmental projects were cloistered among the intellectual, the elite, the wealthy; they wanted to democratize that.
So, they developed a crowd-funding platform that enables New Yorkers to donate to small-scale environmental projects led by their neighbors. These aren’t scientists, engineers or top-level physicists trying to solve climate change.
Rather, these are local residents who are putting in more green spaces, growing gardens, dabbling in urban beekeeping or attempting to clean up the city’s sewers.
As an investor or donor, you select a project, determine the amount you’d like to contribute, make the transaction and, voilà, you’ve just helped beautify your backyard — well, almost your backyard.
But what one of the ioby founders emphasized was that many times the people who donate will get involved in the project itself. They’ll walk over — after all, it’s only a few blocks down the road — and see it unravel before them, often digging in themselves.
That’s a gift that literally keeps on giving — to the environment, to the city or borough, to the project itself.
There are countless other imaginative platforms that people are building. They’re seeing gaps, problems and filling them with their creativity.
So, while we wait for global business leaders and politicians to catch on (and we might be waiting for a long time), we can help define more positive solutions ourselves. That way, the holiday cheer that we’re so good at in November and December doesn’t have to end with the new year.
By investing in these kinds of efforts, your impact is likely to supersede the holiday buzz. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got to keep a stash of gingerbread cookies to remind you of the holiday spirit, it’s worth it. Especially, if that means you’ll be extending that optimism, generosity, compassion and enthusiasm through spring and into the fall.
So, go ahead, give your holidays some mileage. Don’t stop on Christmas Day. Be merry, be optimistic, be imaginative and, most of all, be supportive to those who can envision a better tomorrow.