Reasons to be cheerful

By Bernadette Meaden
December 23, 2015

At Christmas, it's good to remember that almost all people are full of kindness, and all around us people are doing good things.

In Cumbria, flooded communities have had help from many sources - from the local man who set up his fast food van in a flooded street and fed people for free, to the Muslim volunteers from mosques in Preston who delivered supplies and helped clear homes of waterlogged carpets and furniture.  

Whilst governments including our own seem complacent about rising homelessness, people still have compassion and do what they can to help. In Iran, people have started installing rows of coat hooks on walls in public places. On the wall they write, 'If you don't need it, leave it. If you need it, take it.' Here in the UK, people have been tying coats to lamp posts and railings, with a note telling homeless people to take them.

And as more and more people see that our current economic system is unfair and unsustainable, ideas that were once considered outlandish and fanciful, like a Citizen's Income, or Basic Income, are now getting serious consideration. Next year a referendum will be held in Switzerland to decide whether to introduce a generous Basic Income there. If it is introduced, it will give great impetus to those who argue for it in the UK.

As an example of how those who are fortunate can really contribute to society if they choose to do so, Martin Lewis has shown the way. Known for his popular down to earth financial and consumer advice, Lewis set up a website for £100 which became so successful it was bought by a large company. Instead of pocketing the cash and walking away, he set up a charity fund from which he has already donated almost £4 million to organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Trussell Trust. He will donate a further £16 million, and set up an organisation, "to come up with innovative solutions for the prevention (rather than cure) of mental health issues causing debt problems and vice versa. Then once the solutions are in place, to lobby, cajole, bully and help financial services firms, regulators and politicians to make them happen." 

In a television series that was unfortunately screened in the mornings, so limiting its audience, people reliant on benefits were for once shown as ordinary decent people, facing immense difficulties with dignity and courage. 'Sister Rita to the Rescue' showed the work of Catholic charity Caritas in Manchester, focusing on the foodbank and other services offered by the Lalley Centre, run by the formidable Sister Rita. The show, no doubt taking its cue from the charity, showed dire poverty, and the people enduring, it with sensitivity and respect. It would be wonderful if the series could be repeated in an evening slot, as an antidote to all the 'Benefits Street' propaganda which has so maligned people who are the same as everybody else, but just happen to be poor.

Here in the UK, the divisive thinking of groups like the EDL and Britain First fortunately remain very much on the outer fringes, and in the Oldham by-election UKIP was emphatically rejected in favour of a local Labour Councillor, despite the relentlessly negative publicity surrounding the Labour leadership.

Whilst across the Atlantic, Donald Trump makes the headlines, the election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada brought a kinder, gentler voice to the world stage. As he personally welcomed Syrian refugees, or “new Canadians”, as he called them, at the airport, they were given health insurance cards, winter clothing and other gifts to help them begin their new lives. In his Christmas message, Prime Minister Trudeau says, "We often celebrate this time of year by showing our generosity to family and friends. I trust that we will do the same with the thousands of people who are experiencing the Canadian holidays and the Canadian winter for the first time – the Syrian refugees. After all, we share values of love, hope, and compassion. It's what we do and it's who we are."

And as we celebrate Christmas, above our heads Tim Peake is orbiting the earth in the International Space Station, a glorious example of how nations can co-operate with each other.

There is a daunting amount of work to be done to even begin to make the world fairer and more peaceful, but it's also good to remember we do have reasons to be cheerful, and go forward into a new year with hope.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Keywords:hope | christmas
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