I want to talk about a message for Christmas. This is the Christmas episode.
Regardless of your race or religion or what you believe in, it’s an important time of year because first of all in the northern hemisphere it tends to be very cold and it also tends to be very lonely for a lot of people who don’t have family.
For everybody else, for everybody else that’s warm and that has family, it’s a phenomenal time of year because it’s happy, it’s fun, it’s friendly, it’s full of presents, it’s full of goodness, food, parties, you name it we’re all doing it.
But if you’re cold and if you don’t have family, this time of year frankly is hell.
Now why does this relate to TepFu and marketing?
Well this is the season for me of remembering.
It’s about the impact of storytelling, and there isn’t a better time of year to talk about the impact of a story for me than Christmas. Because Christmas, whether you believe in the story or not, is itself the telling of the story. It’s the telling of the story of Christianity, but it’s also the telling of the story of lots of other religious traditions. It’s also the same time of year that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah takes place which is an amazing story about the Maccabees.
So this whole period of time is all about stories, and how do we play that out into reality?
We watch lots of movies at Christmas, those are all stories.
We go on walks and talk to each other, we tell each other stories.
It’s a very very strong story season.
And the impact of story on marketing and business in general is massive and there’s a huge learning for all of us.
And today I have a story to tell you.
So my Christmas gift to you all is a story, if you will bear with me, it’s not particularly long.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most rewarding activity I have ever undertaken, outside of my family life, took place about four years ago on Christmas Day. With significant trepidation and fear, I signed up for a single night shift with Crisis for Christmas Day into Boxing Day.
If you don’t know who Crisis are they run respite locations for eight days for people who are normally homeless, and it’s a mind-blowing experience (Find out more here).
So I went on the evening of Christmas Day, on the 25th, I drove into central London and I experienced something that I’d never experienced before.
I came home on the 26th of December, absolutely exhausted and crying at what I’d seen, a grown man amazing, as if we don’t ever feel and cry.
I was devastated.
I’d only signed up for one night and I went back the next two nights, I couldn’t not go back because these people needed help. I couldn’t go back more than that because I was exhausted, because night shifts are hard work.
And I’ve struggled to go back ever since because I need to focus on my health and be able to last a whole night and I don’t think I would. And perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I should do some day shifts. But night shifts are what I’m able to give up because my family were asleep, during the day shift I want to spend time with my family.
And I don’t believe anyone will begrudge me that. But I try and support them in other ways, for example this story.
So what had I seen?
It was a compelling and totally all too real state of affairs, and it required so much more attention and devotion for me. I couldn’t do anymore that year and I’ve struggled to return, but what I’ve experienced will never leave me and I want to communicate that to you. To see how broken life can get for some people; old people, young people, pregnant women, Asian males, young tiny wisps of youths, of all races, religions, backgrounds, black, white, Jewish, Chinese, Peruvian, I met everyone.
In this environment.
Young girls from wealthy homes.
Old men who were ex Merchant Navy.
You would just be amazed at the total blend of people who are homeless. And this poverty of homelessness ultimately knows no class, no ethnicity, no gender.
There is no barrier.
I remember the smell and the cold, but mostly I remember the young pregnant girl being fought over by young males as she was clearly a fast track to a council flat. If she was lucky.
I remember the violence resorted to by those in front of me, with no empowerment to achieve goals in the way I achieved goals through any other conventional means or societal norms.
I remember the young Asian lad in a suit on Facebook, and my thinking he was a volunteer like me because he was very well-dressed, a lot of the other guests in the center are not particularly well-dressed. And he was very well-dressed and I thought he was a volunteer so I started talking to him.
Only to my amazement to discover that he was a guest resident in the center. And when I asked him to tell me more about his story, he told me (and I was open mouthed and tearful) as I realised he was on Facebook because no one in his world knew he was homeless, because his cultural tradition made it impossible to look like he had failed at life.
He was homeless, he was wearing a suit because he was going to work and pretending to live a life on Facebook that he actually wasn’t living.
I was stunned and I thought of my own cultural background as a young Jewish male. I don’t recall knowing anyone who was homeless, and I wonder how I would have reacted and I don’t think I’d have reacted very differently to that young chap.
I remember that stopping me, aged 42 at the time, totally stopped me dead.
Dead in my tracks.
I remember the mental illness that had forced people onto the streets. That have then forced them into our Center by various care workers eager to help people survive the cold of winter at the hardest time of year.
I remember being told not to wish people Merry Christmas, people who had lost families, children, homes.
There was nothing merry about Christmas to many of them.
I remember the substance abuse in front of us, hidden from us.
I remember the lengths people would go to to alleviate their suffering.
Lengths that I would never consider, how lucky am I?
I remember the boy, the old boy with the Uncle Albert white beard whose landlady / girlfriend had in his words “put him out on the streets a few weeks before Christmas with nowhere to go”. She’d had enough of him and just put him out on the streets.
I remember all these people.
How lucky am I? Only to remember, I hope whatever you’re celebrating is memorable for you in the right ways, and whatever you do what I’d like you to do right now, is go to look at Crisis at Christmas and just put some money in that check out. Because if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that, and you’re lucky enough to not have to remember what bad looks like, you’re having a very Merry Christmas. And I wish you do and I hope you do.