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Kindness and empathy – a New Year’s resolution for us all

Deirdre Freiheit
President and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope and the Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation
Published in the Ottawa Citizen
December 23, 2018

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go… Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

A man sat in our soup kitchen all alone, humming this song. His clothes were ragged and not warm enough for our cold weather. But he was smiling and happy.

Why was he humming?

The song reminded him of his childhood, the last time he could remember feeling loved. He said being at Shepherds of Good Hope’s soup kitchen reminded him of that feeling. Even though he is homeless, he felt the care and compassion of a community. A community of volunteers who prepared his meal accompanied by a smile; caring employees who made sure that he had a place to sleep and access to services; health professionals who provided needed medical care; generous donors who offered food and clothing so that he was warm and nourished.

‘Tis the season of giving, of love, of compassion. Many of us will be spending our Christmas with families and friends in the warmth of our homes, filled with food and gifts. For others, the holiday season is fraught with memories of the traumas they’ve experienced that contributed to their homelessness. Christmas does not evoke happiness for them. In fact, Christmas will be difficult and lonely.

Imagine being alone at Christmas. Imagine that loneliness continues day after day. At the heart of loneliness is the absence of positive relationships.

Christmas is the time of year when friends and family gather to connect. Kindness resonates throughout our communities.

The most wonderful time of year for many is the loneliest time of year for some: those people who are precariously housed and living paycheque to paycheque. Seniors who have lost family and friends and have no one to care for them. Young people who left home because of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Those struggling with gender identity or declining mental health.

Everyone needs human connection. Loneliness is a weight on their shoulders that gets heavier as time passes. We see and feel the isolation that people struggle with at this time of year when they come to us for help.

Shepherds of Good Hope will be the only place to go for many of Ottawa’s homeless this Christmas. We work hard all year to make the shelter environment and our supportive housing residences warm and inviting beacons, demonstrating that hope is here.

As we spend the holidays with loved ones, let’s remember those who will be facing the harsh, cold winter days feeling lonely and discarded in our community. Let’s not shame those who will mask that loneliness by self-medicating and fighting addictions fostered by the chaotic and traumatic lives they didn’t ask for.

Please consider offering hope and compassion long after the Christmas season ends. You have the power to make someone feel cared for every day of the year. You can help someone to feel less lonely. Often, a simple hello can make a difference. You may be the only person who has taken the time that day to do so.

Kindness and empathy can combat loneliness. This year, make your New Year’s resolution with this in mind. It could be your most empowering resolution yet! Go ahead – make someone’s day.