Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on December 23, 2019.

Most days the boys come home from school saying the day was OK. Every now and then something more than ordinary happens and the usual non-descriptive OK is replaced by stories, good and bad. A couple of weeks ago our youngest came home with such a story – a good one.

That day, their Career Planning teacher told them, among others, that gratitude makes life better. He told them stories about people who went through hard times and became that much more grateful for what they had even when almost everything had been taken away from them.

Another time, the woodwork teacher told them that they are fortunate to be able to go to school and have access to so many learning resources. We often talked about this in our home. It is hard to put in in words how good many people have it here. And having it good comes with moral obligations, I believe.

Watching the news on any given day confirms one thing: the world is in turmoil and the future a bit shaky. I know, I know, don’t give up on being optimistic, because the world is a better place than it sued to be. For some yes, for others, not so much.

A couple of days ago a friend sent me an article about the UNICEF photo of the year. You can see it here. It’s a mirror of sorts, the kind of haunting image that digs deep in one’s heart. The photo was chosen because, they said, it describes perfectly the three tragedies of our time: poverty, pollution and child labour. That it surfaced during this time of the year is no small thing.

It’s not about bringing down everyone’s mood down with this but calling attention to what people so easily forget when they hop on the holiday train: the price of it all. What’s behind so many things we readily buy more of because we can, and we want, and we have it offered to us in numbing volumes.

Some may say that it’s not good to live with guilt, but I’d say it’s not good to live avoiding responsibility. When everything becomes oh so attainable through sales this time of the year, we ought to keep our heads straight and ask what it actually takes for things to be made and for merchants to make a profit when so much of what is in store is so darn affordable. Someone in that mix is far from feeling the holiday spirit the way others do.

The fact that children are part of that ‘someone’ is wrong. I know there was a time in our history when children worked hard. In the fields, in factories, and everywhere where cheap labour was needed. Then the switch started to happen and they started going to school and education made everything better for many of them, and for the generations that followed. In some parts of the world, that is. In other parts, little has changed. Somehow though, knowing what we know about child labour and the wrongness of it, and while making sure our own children do not do go through that, we have come to rely, a lot, on labour done by children and no image of their suffering, though many have surfaced over the years, seems to make a deep enough impact that could bring that to a halt.

It’s nothing you or I can solve just by wishing it gone. A wave of empathy coming just from a handful of people cannot do much. Not right away, anyway. But if we remind ourselves that each choice has an impact, then it becomes a different story: one that we can write, instead of just following a script written by those who have the power.

We have a lot to be grateful for, but I do not believe gratitude is just about saying ‘thank you’ and continuing to get more things because we can. It is a commitment to do more for the greater good, and a commitment to see life through the lens that allows for perspective. To be grateful is to have empathy.

That’s why we ought to teach children about gratitude; and remind ourselves of that too. I invite everyone to stop and reflect about it this holiday season and find opportunities to trace our collective way back to where we could be grateful, so life could be better. Everyone’s life that is, because that when it counts.

Merry Christmas!