Andy Richardson: Reach out – you can make a difference
So the tree’s back in the cellar and the decorations are stowed. The gym membership has been renewed and the belt has moved up a notch after Boxing Day turned into Binge Day. Christmas is 350-something days away and we’re already looking forward to Valentine’s.
Those foolish enough to make New Year’s resolutions have already reneged and are wondering whether Will Power is simply the name of an Australian motorsports driver who competes in America’s IndyCar Series. He is, we Googled it, clever us.
I can’t claim to be festive. A former agnostic who was turned on to atheism by a Christian so devout she quite literally believed she was going to burn in hell – there’s no hyperbole there, she actually thought she’d catch fire . . . frightening – Christmas stopped jingling my bells decades ago.
I don’t believe a little baby was born in a shed with a bunch of guys rocking up with gold because they’d followed a North Star. In this logician’s mind, it’s as likely as a big, fat, bearded fella in a red suit landing on the roof before descending down the chimney with a sack full of presents – and somehow managing not to get covered in soot.
And yet there’s a little bit of Christmas that I’m intending to carry with me deep into the New Year. And it’s called this: #JoinIn
On Christmas morning, while most people were tucking into a breakfast of chocolate, the comedian Sarah Millican did what she’s done for the past seven years – took to Twitter armed only with a hashtag. Her purpose was simple, she wanted to reach out to the many who feel lonely on Christmas Day.
Sarah wasn’t just thinking of the four million people across all age groups who live alone, who’ve lost loved ones or who suffer from anxiety on a day that’s been hi-jacked by commercial interests. She was also thinking of the people of the people who were with those they didn’t wish to be with, who felt misunderstood or who felt crushed by the pressure that Christmas brings.
And before cynical of Craven Arms starts to imagine she’s just another bleeding heart Liberal, or she’s a fake celeb supporting a charidee so that she earns extra PR points, the sense of warmth engendered by #JoinIn was inspiring.
People from all walks of life, irrespective of gender, sexuality, class, culture, creed, religion or race, did the decent thing: they stopped, they listened, they offered words of encouragement or support and they provided the biggest gift that any festive season can provide – kindness.
They connected like wires at a telephone exchange. Millions of people, from New Zealand to Newcastle-on-Clun, stopped for a moment to talk. Those grieving a tough year were offered the proverbial and virtual arm around the shoulder. Those feeling chipper shared their bonhomie with those down on their luck, those toughing it out provided strength and encouragement for those feeling weak. It was humanity at its best. #JoinIn created a wonderful community that cared and shared, that offered empathy and kindness.
In some ways, #JoinIn was the way things used to be. Social media took us full circle to the days before social media – when we knew our neighbours’ names, stopped to chat to people in the street and didn’t speed around like busy automatons all in the name of progress.
It harked back, too, to the days before Sunday Trading, when families and communities had a single day when the world was closed for business; when they’d sit around a table, talk about their lives, engage with family and friends and take an interest in things more important than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. How long ago that seems.
#JoinIn has gone for another year. The moment now has passed. We’re all immersed in our day-to-day, in financial concerns or family issues, in seeking promotions or keeping wolves from the door, in getting from a-to-b and keeping our heads above water.
But I like to think that while the coming year will be uncertain, a few can be inspired by #JoinIn. After all, ideas don’t get much simpler. And we’re hardly setting ourselves a climb-Everest-style challenge by simply trying to be kind, once in a while, rather than dismissive, judgemental or disengaged.
#JoinIn has gone and the New Year is already feeling old. But Sarah’s festive kindness showed us that we can all make a difference, we can all reach out, we can all make connections. It doesn’t have to be on Twitter: it can be in an office or at a bus stop, on a train or on the terraces of a football stadium.
And it doesn’t have to be words or an emoji, it can be a gesture or a smile, a courtesy or an indiscriminate act of kindness.
The new year is here. Stay safe. Stay happy.