Tis the season.
Peace on earth. Goodwill toward man.
Truth be told, we’ll never have much peace until goodwill becomes standard operating procedure for the masses.
Along those lines, years ago, my uncle David and I confided in each other that we had figured out my mother’s secret. People naturally want her to be happy because they easily recognize all she does to help others.
“She gets more back from people by being good to them than she ever would if she tried to take whatever it was she was after in the first place,” Uncle David said.
My husband didn’t need my mother’s example to embrace self-interested benevolence. On his own (or probably through the examples of his own family), he realized how much better life was if he was good to people.
“If I’m good to them – and specifically to you,” he told me, “my life is easier and just gets better.”
I’m not sure what that says about me, but I suppose my husband is living proof of the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
It’s true. When he does kind things – especially little things like getting me a cup of water late at night or going to the grocery store when we’re out of something and it’s raining outside, he’s banking goodwill.
Denying an ever-growing stockpile of my husband’s goodwill is impossible. Sometimes, despite my natural tendencies, I act nice and in his best interest instead of my own. I know he’d do the same for me, and I want him to be happy.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of communication breakdowns and moments of frustration on the homefront. But over the years, our relationship has improved dramatically.
I’m happy to give him the lion’s share of credit.
On the flipside of building and banking goodwill is the scene I see carried out between classes in the halls of the middle school where I teach. Peace on earth seems a long way off when you watch a group of adolescents relentlessly badger each other on matters large and small.
Moments of isolated kindness are celebrated, but all too often, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Watching the innocence of childhood disappear right before your very eyes is painful — even with the knowledge that students’ mean-spirited words and actions are usually based in attempts to prove self-worth, as much to themselves as to others.
Quiet students, with seemingly sweet demeanors, time and again are gobbled up by nastiness around them. Eventually, I see malice building in many of them. They’re tired of it. They’re not going to take it anymore.
And, the cycle continues.
Breaking the cycle of cruelty and creating an atmosphere of civility comes down to nurturing the needy, healing the wounds and creating circles of forgiveness on a consistent basis.
The lesson of learning to love back – and forward – whether through a mother, a husband or students is powerful throughout the year.
May peace and goodwill start with each of us.