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Say “Hello” during Christmas

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About the Author

Gary J. Machan

Gary J. Machan

Gary Machan serves on the Community Advisory Research Committee for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Through the course of his career he has received several provincial awards including the 2nd Stage of Medicare, Ontario Tobacco Network Innovation Award for Excellence, and Food Champion Award. In addition, Mr. Machan is an associate with the Centre for Inner Freedom where his work was featured by Tom Harpur in his best selling book ‘Finding the Still Point’.

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During this time of ‘Christmas Cheer’, it is remarkable how much of its counterpart we encounter in the way of a significant rise of people experiencing great emotional distress. Such as any seasoned medical staff will readily attest who are tasked with working in a hospital emergency ward over the holiday season.

Sure, there is a lot to be said for the Seasonal Affective Disorders. I know there was one week in the latter part of November that seemed to go on forever; the skies gloomy and gray, the air cold and damp, the trees skeletal and forlorn. Not sure about you, but this was one month I was happy to see in the rear view mirror.

Even so, if I had to designate the chief culprit it would be none other than loneliness. As ‘mushy’ as this might sound, there are few factors more corrosive to the human body and soul than loneliness. It weakens our immune systems. It dampens our mood. In fact, research demonstrates that loneliness kills more people than obesity does.

And yet, we don’t hear much discussion about social isolation. Let alone acknowledge social isolation ranks higher than all others as a risk factor in determining whether someone becomes a high cost user of the health care system. On the contrary, it would appear we prefer institutionalizing that which could be dealt with in far more cost effective and humane ways.

It is here that I cannot help but wonder if our culture’s obsession with the rugged, self-sufficient, self-made person as the ‘ideal’ we are conditioned to aspire to plays a role. For there are few things our ego driven culture abhors more than vulnerability, since this is perceived as weakness. Net result: to paraphrase Woody Allen, ‘we don’t get lonely, we get cancer instead’.

And so what is the answer. I can think of no better place to look than by spending time with young children. Truth be known, I have learned far more from my children on the things that most matter in life than I have from any book, church pew, or those pretending to be wise. Precisely, because they are so innocent, full of wonder and vulnerable.

One major lesson occurred during Christmas day shortly after my son had just turned three. My wife and I (mostly my wife) had done the frantic shopping shtick, which between us and our parents was so bountiful, I wondered if we might lose sight of the Christmas tree. All with the best of intentions I might add.

And yet, do you want to know what my son spent the most time playing with? His new train set? Sorry daddy. His Pirate Lego kit? Sorry grandpa. Any of his new books? Sorry mommy and grandma. Get this, it was the wrapping paper and boxes the toys came in. Only with one catch, he came over to me and wanted me to join him, as all kids want their parents to do.

It was then that the penny dropped that the greatest present any of us can give another is our presence. All of which brings me to the lines of one of my favorite songs, “if you are walking down the street some time, and you spot some hollow ancient eyes, please don’t pass them by and stare as if you didn’t care, say hello in there, hello.”

Seasons Greetings!



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