Christmas is upon us once again. I know it’s a cliché, but I cannot believe how quickly this year has flown past. It seems like only yesterday that I was having one of the worst Christmases ever; one that almost broke my heart. I have recovered, but only just. This year, I declared that I wasn’t going anywhere: I was going to do what I always do. Go for a run (weather permitting), have breakfast with my daughter and her boyfriend, usher them out the door around 11am, pour myself a Pimm’s and lemonade, switch on the TV and proceed to binge watch Game of Thrones. I’m up to Season 5. I know Christmas is a big deal for many people, but for me it’s a take-it-or-leave-it affair. And I’d rather leave it.
I’m not entirely a Grinch, though. There are some aspects of it that I really like. Like making a Christmas wish or two. I used to take my daughter to see Santa so she could make her Christmas wishes. She’d line up with all the other excited children (and patient parents) in the Magic Cave, waiting for her turn to sit on Santa’s knee, telling him her Christmas wishes, which—by the magic that is Christmas—almost invariably came to pass. I used to save for months so she could have a Christmas that delighted her. Nine times out of ten, I had a happy child on my hands.
I have a few Christmas wishes of my own this year. Clearly, I can’t sit on Santa’s knee (well, I could, but that would be a bit weird, not to mention awkward), so I’ll make my wishes here in the hope that by the magic of all things Christmas, my wishes for the world will come to pass.
Christmas wish #1 – Compassion toward refugees
Australia—my homeland—is a country that has been built on the backs of migrants and refugees. You would think that the general Australian population would, therefore, be empathetic toward the plight of people having to flee war-torn countries. I am here tell you that while there is certainly growing awareness and sympathy, many Australians are racist redneck bogans. The conservative Abbott government (which is now under new management, thank GOD) didn’t help. Actually a few consecutive Labor governments haven’t helped either. With both sides of government endorsing a “turn back the boats” policy, and offshore processing centres that have been condemned by human rights organisations, and (more recently) draconian measures designed to shut down dissent by detention centre worker, it’s an awful time to be an asylum seeker wanting to come to Australia.
And if you are a Muslim, and you are resettled here, then God help you. There is so much anti-Muslim sentiment around at the moment, that it’s dangerous to be a Muslim Australian, irrespective of whether you were born here or arrive as a refugee. We are all on high terror alert, not helped by dawn raids on alleged (Muslim) terrorists and (Muslim) people with mental health issues (I’m assuming) holding sieges and gunning down police accountants. And then there are (Muslim) people who close a street for their wedding. Or the ones who want to build mosques in our neighbourhoods. Did we learn nothing from Nazi Germany?
[bctt tweet=”No one person is perfect. So can we all just take a chill pill and be kinder to each other?”]
My first Christmas wish is that we stop categorising and stereotyping people according to their race, religion, sexuality and gender. Yes, there are bad Muslims, just like there are bad Christians, Jews and Hindus. There are bad straight people and there are bad LGBTI people. There are bad and good white, black, yellow and red people. Some men are bad, just as some women are. No one person is perfect. So can we all just take a chill pill and be kinder to each other?
Christmas wish #2 – Better treatment of customers and employees
I had this as two Christmas wishes, but it’s really one. After all, how can an unhappy, unmotivated, disengaged employee treat customers and clients with respect and courtesy? A disempowered, disgruntled employee will not make decisions in the best interests of customers, because, well, why would they?
Exhibit A: After returning to my old department in July of this year, I am shocked at how unhappy, unmotivated, disengaged many of my colleagues are. A business reform program (which is actually about cost cutting and hence, reducing significant staff numbers) has taken its toll. Job security has vanished, workloads have increased. Threat responses in brains have been well and truly activated.
Exhibit B: Getting home from Bali in November of this year should have been straightforward, except for a pesky volcano. Virgin had the opportunity to win customers over with how they handled the “crisis”, but failed miserably. They are still failing a month later, when I’ve been trying to get documentation from them to make a claim on my travel insurance. Numerous phone calls and emails later, two letters sent with incorrect information and they still haven’t got it right. I’m a brand ambassador for Virgin, but not in the way they want.
— Diane Lee (@dileeshus) December 22, 2015
In both cases, I am vocal about how things could and should be improved, because, quite frankly, it’s not that hard to get right. My second Christmas wish is, therefore, this: that organisations would employ leaders who truly care about the well-being of their staff; that they would bend over backwards to improve processes and communication; and really, truly, absolutely empower their people to make good decisions. And listen. Listen to everyone—including those customers and employees you don’t want to hear from—about what needs to improve. And then do it. Unless you’re doing brain surgery, it ain’t rocket science. Unfortunately, so many organisations have fallen down the quality abyss and can’t seem to claw their way back out.
Christmas wish #3 – Put your smart phone down
The zombie apocalypse is upon us. It crept up by stealth. It was not by a viral pandemic, where humans became infected and turned on other humans, seeking food. No. It has been much more covert and insidious than that, and is potentially more damaging. You can fight off hungry zombies with Japanese swords, but it’s much more difficult to beat your own brain, your own addictions, your own weaknesses.
Oh, it started innocently enough, this zombie apocalypse. A screen here, an app there. The latest, greatest, best, most awesome gadgets. Greater connectivity. Super fast internet is now a basic human right. Sure, we have greater access to information than we have ever had. We can shop 24/7. We can easily connect and communicate with people from across the globe. But while we might have gained, we’ve lost something. Swings and roundabouts. Public transport, festivals, parks, beaches, pools, cultural events… everywhere you look are people staring at their smart phones, missing out on their lives. They view everything through the lens of their smart phone camera, posting endless food pictures and selfies to Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr. The worst—the absolute worst—is going out with friends for dinner or drinks and they are glued to their smart phones. Urgh.
I’m no angel, either. have noticed that my smart phone has a tendency to control me, rather than me controlling it, and I’m by no means a heavy user. A couple of years ago, I realised that I’d lost my ability to read. Oh, I could read the words ok. I was still literate. I just couldn’t read two paragraphs before losing focus and checking Facebook… or Twitter… or Instagram. Argh! So back to books I went, and it was like I had to learn to read again. Not words: but how to focus and block out distractions like cat-shaming on BuzzFeed (you’re welcome). Even though social media is a wonderful collective tool (and I do use it for business), I’m aware of how much time it sucks out of my life. Two hours can disappear quite easily into the Facebook vortex.
A couple of lines from one of my favourite movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, sums up the situation perfectly. Sean Penn’s character could have taken a picture of the elusive snow leopard, but chose not to:
Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it?
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.
So my final Christmas wish is this: that you put down your phones. Spend time with your loved ones talking. Really, truly, absolutely talking. And laughing. Sit on a bus and stare out of the window. People watch. Look around you when you walk instead of at your screen. Take in your surroundings: the harried mother battling a screaming toddler, the cool, tattooed hipster with beard to die for, the homeless person who grins cheekily at you and bids you a good day. Eat your food rather than photograph it. Read a book, one with actual pages. Find a moment that you like and stay in it. Right there. Right here.
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Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?