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What Christmas is all about. Helping one another

David Flanagan

As the holiday season approaches I thought of sharing the following piece. I wrote the story about twenty years ago when my kids (and I) were much younger. I decided to leave it unchanged from the original despite editorial changes I would make now if rewriting the story.

The story appeared in various local newspapers on the editorial page and I think my angst over being able to provide for my children as a parent then is perhaps even more true for many now given the current economic climate.

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Over the past few months, we’ve been continuously bombarded by an endless flow of advertisements from merchants heralding the arrival of the holiday season and announcing the availability of their products.

Of all the merchants hawking their wares and urging us to spend our hard earned dollars, perhaps none are as persistent or potentially influential as those who represent the toy and games industry. Television commercials, full-page newspaper ads and glitzy flyers all implore us to do one thing-run out to the nearest mall ASAP and pick up as many items as possible in time for Christmas.

Have I been affected by their pleas? Of course, toys and games are loads of fun, and after all don’t I have two kids at home who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa? Let’s face it, the advertisements have worked or shall I say the arm twisting has been extremely effective. I mean, what type of father would I be if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure that the kids are amply rewarded with as many toys and games as possible? Talk about guilt feelings!

So recently I found myself at the Independence Mall among hundreds of other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other would-be Santas joined in the quest for the ideal gifts. As I wandered down aisle after aisle of bikes, games, dolls, Playstations and stuffed animals I found myself simultaneously awed and disheartened over the exorbitant cost of toys today.

Forty dollars for a not-so-cute doll, fifty bucks for a Legends of Wrestling videogame, $130 for My Size Barbie as Rapunzel and $250 for the Star Wars 25th anniversary LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer.

As my journey continued I experienced tremendous feelings of ambivalence toward the holiday season. On the one hand I was thrilled at the thought of being able to purchase gifts for the kids and witnessing the pleasure that such items would surely bring. Conversely, I felt great concern and guilt over whether I would truly be able to afford enough gifts to ensure such pleasure.

At the same time, I began thinking about other parents who, as a result of the current economic climate, may not have the wherewithal to feed, clothe or house their children, never mind smother them with gifts. What does a single mother tell her child on Christmas morning when the boy rushes over to their tree and finds that there’s nothing beneath it?

How does an unemployed father answer a child who asks, as tears well up in her beautiful blue eyes, what has she done that was so wrong, so terrible that it could cause Santa to abandon her this Christmas? What crosses a little boy’s mind when he visits his friend’s house and notices a mountain of toys and games heaped beneath the tree?

While thinking about these questions I found myself drifting back to my own childhood and recalling Christmases past: the annual Christmas Eve ritual of leaving out hot cocoa and cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, my sister and I opening our gifts and the family gatherings at Nana’s home in Dorchester.

How wonderful those Christmases were and how fortunate I am to have such pleasant, enduring memories of them. Yet, while my Christmas memories are indeed positive ones, there were several that may not have been quite so enjoyable had it not been for the generosity and compassion of various charitable organizations and their contributors. Charities and Good Samaritans that come to mind include the men and women who threw the annual Christmas party in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Globe Santa in Boston, Scituate Community Christmas, the Kennedy Center and Townie Santa, and the Salvation Army among others.

Unless you have been fortunate to have received assistance from one of the many charitable organizations that exist I’m not sure that you can ever really appreciate how wonderful a service they provide to their recipients. Such organizations and the volunteers who support them truly embody the spirit of Christmas and can make a profound difference in the lives of those dependent upon them.

Think about it-total strangers coming together, giving of their time, money and energy to help make life a bit more bearable for people whom they may never meet. That to me is truly what Christmas is all about.

Has Christmas become too commercialized and focused on material pleasures and the temporary satisfaction that showering one another with gifts during the holidays brings? Yes, of course it has and in reality there is so much more to Christmas and the holiday season such as getting together with family and friends and celebrating how much we mean to one another. It also means reaching out to help someone in need and trying to bring a smile of joy to those we encounter in all that we do.

Like most parents I have always tried to instill within my children the same strong values of honesty, compassion, hard work that my mother provided to me by way of example.

However, my point here is that when your kids are young you simply have to try to find the right balance of making their wishes for material things come true until such time as they’re mature enough to realize there is so much more to Christmas morning than finding a pile of gifts beneath the tree. Sure, many never mature to the point where they acknowledge that there is more to life than just self satisfaction but that is a story for another day.

A neighbor informed me that she doesn’t support Christmas only-oriented charitable organizations since she believes it is inappropriate to focus on helping kids one day a year while ignoring their plight for the other 364 days. I can understand the point that my friend is trying to make; however I totally disagree with her. Yes, of course we should try to help one another each and every day of the year. Unfortunately, however, there’s really no way that we’ll ever be able to fully eradicate the poverty, hunger and hatred confronting mankind, nor ease the pain and suffering that people, particularly our children, are experiencing with an ever-growing frequency.

The least that we can do is to try to brighten up their day and bring a smile to their face around the holidays when they might otherwise be forgotten.

To those who can afford to put a little bit of money or time aside I would ask that you consider making a contribution to one of the many Christmas charitable organizations that work tirelessly to ensure that no one is forgotten during the holiday season. I can assure you that your compassion and consideration will be appreciated and never, ever forgotten.

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I wrote this article five years ago and have not edited it in some time. As much as the internet, social media and related technologies have been a boon to civilization I also believe it is having an increasingly negative impact. Now we can no longer live our lives in ignorance since we are constantly deluged with info we have little control over. Information is great if we take action but if we just post about it and simply spread the message what are we really accomplishing?

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Why do employers fear social media and ban or limit their employees from using it during work hours? Do employers have a valid concern about social media use by employees and do they have the right to limit or ban its use? Will Executives over 50 ever get Social Media and why do many resist embracing and promoting it?

I’ve seen these and similar queries posed as more and more news stories break about employees using or abusing social media outlets while ostensibly working. Granted there is a valid place for social media and a need for it to enhance an organization’s communications abilities or reach. However, I believe employee use must be monitored during work hours and guidelines implemented concerning what is communicated by whom and when, where and why.

Common sense and respect for the rights of others should prevail when it comes to the use of social media but in reality some individuals simply lack such traits. Employees must be educated about what types of information should be transmitted regardless of whether it is during work hours or after hours when it relates to their employer.

For instance, should a hospital employee be able to post patient information or photos on Facebook? Should an employee working in corrections display pictures of an inmate’s cell online? Is it reasonable for an employee of a company providing supplies to the US Department of Defense to discuss contracts or display pictures of prototypes?

I appreciate social media and embrace all it has to offer but also believe it is simply one more tool (albeit a powerful one) to be used to communicate effectively along with the more time tested, traditional methods. As such, I wanted to offer my own humble opinion about why there may be reluctance on the part of some to accept social media and all it has to offer if used judiciously.

Many executives or individuals in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s are used to working in an environment that is very private, personal and reserved. Those who are even older remember wartime slogans such as “Loose lips, sink ships” and are concerned about indiscretion out of concerns about privacy, confidentiality breaches, reputations, decorum, trust, lawsuits and so much more.

In this era of increased reliance on new technologies, ever changing communications channels and greater transparency the ability to develop and maintain trust is perhaps more important than ever before as we struggle to keep things in check.

At this point corporations, government agencies and individuals should be gravely concerned with how much information should be shared online and otherwise and with whom. As a business owner do you really want to do business with an organization or agency whose employees openly discuss your business, contracts, staff, and profits online?

The ability of workers engaged in confidential work activities to note their every movement (via Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin et al) and post pictures of their work site or seemingly private after hours proclivities is terrifying to many business owners since it can cause their clients to lose faith and trust in them among other things. So while it is important to develop ones online brand and identity to effectively compete it is similarly necessary to preserve trust above all else.

When I first got involved in Boston politics and organizing political campaigns I remember the older activists suggesting that one should abide by a “Code of Silence” such as that attributed to Marty Lomasney, Ward boss of Boston’s Ward 8 regarding the need for discretion.

Lomasney, who served Boston as a state Senator, Representative and Alderman may best be remembered for allegedly saying that when it comes to discretion “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” Today, that quote could probably be updated by adding “never put it in e-mail, text it or post it to Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, Linkedin” and on and on and on.”

The advent of things such as the internet and cell phones while incredibly useful have enabled people to easily share information about themselves and conversely learn more about the other person. In many cases this has led to privacy invasion, identity theft, embarrassment because of past/current transgressions that suddenly become fodder for gossip etc. Then of course misuse can also lead to other events such as claims of libel, slander and potential lawsuits.

I think perhaps many erroneously believe that branding and creating or preserving one’s reputation somehow just materialized over the past few years due to the internet and social media.

Senior executives are used to doing business privately and maintaining a reputation as being staid and creating a brand that buyers and the creators themselves could be proud of and believe in. Think IBM, Sears, Ford or any of the millions of iconic businesses that have been around forever or finally merged or collapsed after many, many years of successful operation.

Of course then there are issues of competition and concealing company secrets from competitors out of a desire to be successful and make a profit and maintain patents from infringement and theft.

Think of corporate or government communications for instance. Generally there has been one department, team or individual responsible for publicity, marketing, or otherwise spreading good news and minimizing the bad. Requests for information have generally been channeled via the department, team, and individual so everyone is on the same page.

If a crisis or incident happens in a government agency or say a hospital historically there has been a crisis communications plan with one, unified voice to protect the interests of the institution and those involved. To many executives social media is viewed as being unrestrained and loose since conceivably everyone within the organization can “discuss” every minute detail of a crisis to the “world” instantaneously.

Today in our age of sound bites and immediacy-information sharing that is unfiltered, too personal or overly transparent can be cause for concern to many older and younger individuals alike.

This includes revealing every private moment about ones life, love life, sexual escapades, what they had for breakfast, how much alcohol they had to drink the night before or any other event that people like to talk about seemingly without reservation. It seems like only yesterday people would say “that’s way more information than I need to know” if you provided them with too many intimate details about your life.

Its one thing for individuals to tweet about themselves, reveal secrets about their lives and loves on Facebook, Linkedin or any other venue but quite another thing to share such items or confidential corporate information especially while ostensibly working.

To many executives such activities while useful in extolling the virtues of an organization can be viewed as potentially damaging to one’s brand and time consuming and wasteful. This is especially worrisome to executives if it is done haphazardly, consistently, illegally or in a manner that causes libel, slander of injury to another.

It’s incredible how much information some are willing to share with the world. Some individuals cherish their privacy and have a greater sense of privacy, decorum and tastefulness than others who seemingly seek to tell the world about every event in their lives. Think sexting and sharing pictures of oneself nude, drunk or engaged in what should be private pursuits via a cell phone, net, Instagram and on and on.

I’ve personally come a long way concerning what I’m willing to share. Social media obviously offers tremendous benefits but many believe it should be prudently used in the work environment since so much is potentially at stake. I agree.

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