Before you give … “Walk a mile in their shoes!”

Well Christmas is over. We’ve braved Black Friday, Internet Monday, and Fed Ex Friday on the parade of consumption. We’ve opened our presents. We’ve had our kids get us up before dawn even thought about getting up. We’ve had the food, the basketball (at least some of it) … and now it’s back to malls for the deals, for the exchanges and for the movies.

Next in line is New Years Eve with the parties and the resolutions. “What can I do this year that I said I’d do last year, but didn’t?” But if your resolution wasn’t about quitting smoking? What if it wasn’t about shedding those stubborn last ten pounds? And what if wasn’t about saving for that vacation you haven’t taken in years.

What if your New Year’s resolution was just to make through the day … and then only to do all over again the next day?

For a lot of people, Christmas and New Years are just other days. There’s no presents and there’s no Christmas dinner, unless you count MacDonald’s. For these people, the holiday season is not a time to remember, it’s more a time forget – a time of memories, long past – of a time and place that often appears to belong to someone else.

For those that have, the holidays are time to give. We all have our lists. We shop neurotically for our husbands, our wives, our kids, and whoever else we feel obligated to buy that fireplace trinket for. Donations go up and you can’t even find a homeless shelter to volunteer at. The ringing of the Salvation Army bell and the clinking of the quarters are as ubiquitous as the “mall rage” that accompany’s it.

After the holidays though … not so much. The bells are gone, packed up like the midway – Monday morning after a county fair. There’s still the lines, but they’re not filled with the volunteers, only those hungry and trying to stay warm.

They say “don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” This goes for charity too. Don’t assume you know what they need until you’ve seen life through their eyes. What it means to help these people and even who these people are may not be as apparent as it appears.

“Not all take a night’s sleep for granted”

Need depends on individual situations. It goes without saying, food, clothing and shelter are on the list. But the requirements of someone living on the streets are different from those living in their car. Where do you park, especially at night, without running the risk of getting roused by the cops or “God forbid” robbed or assaulted?

But the homeless struggle goes beyond day-to-day survival. How do you register your kids for school when you don’t have an address? How do you get ahead when you’re paying twice as much having to live in motel because you don’t have an apartment deposit. Much of the attention is paid to those in the most dire straits (rightfully so), but there’s many others – others not so desperate, but still fighting an uphill battle. This battle needs reinforcements … it needs you!

I pose you a challenge!

Take that giving spirit you’ve had in the weeks up to Christmas, and set yourself a new “standard of giving.” But before you give … think! How can I really make a difference in someone’s life this year? What can I do that extends past just the quarters, the bells and the Christmas dinner? “Walk that mile in someone’s shoes.” Talk to people outside your element, people you’d never associate with. Take a bus. Take a bus anywhere – especially to an area you’d never think about going to, and talk to people you’d never think about talking to. What would make their life a little more tolerable? Find out what would make their “Perfect World” a little closer. “Grow some empathy!”

What if you could be instrumental in setting up a parking lot for “car based people” to sleep safely at night … without being harassed by the police. The prospect of good night’s sleep could be invaluable. It might just be that spark to get them up with that little extra – that little extra that gets them out the door taking that first step. And what about bus passes for those that don’t have a car. It’s kind of hard applying for job or going to the doctor if you can’t get there. And how about cell phone minutes. Without communication the status quo is all but inevitable.

You don’t have to go solo on your goodwill mission either. While it’s fine to give to established causes, maybe you and a few motivated friends can band together and solve the problems right in your community. All it takes is a catalyst … being the one that starts the momentum. Imagine a career and lifestyle resource center manned by volunteers located in vacant office space using technology only one version replaced. Often just one person with an idea and drive is all that’s needed.

Make this holiday season the one that puts new meaning to your definition of “give.” Make it more than that tie for dad, or a video game for your kids.

Give someone a future.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+
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