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President's Page: Holidays and gifts that matter

Vol. 75, No. 6 / November - December 2019

by Tom Bender, 2019-20 Missouri Bar President[1]

November - December Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar

The holidays are special times of reflection and joy. We gather with friends and family and pause to give thanks. We celebrate our faiths. We dust off the basement or attic keepsakes and come together like at no other time to remember what is important in our lives. Even during the terror of World War I, German and British troops conducted an unofficial cease fire on Christmas Eve, many singing Christmas songs to each other across the lines and exchanging gifts on Christmas Day. The holidays can bring out the best in us. 

Tom Bender Photo for President's PageMost of us have good reason to give thanks. If you start with the basics, most of us sleep on beds, have fresh water (something 11% of the world is without), and don’t have war on our doorsteps. We generally make a decent living, usually working in a climate-controlled setting, and we do work that most people find interesting. But still, normalcy becomes a baseline over time, and appreciation of the privileges of life we have sometimes get glossed over by day-to-day challenges. And the holiday season can definitely be challenging. We face balancing the demands of work commitments: resolving cases, getting deals done, making deadlines. Then there is balancing the demands of family: hosting our extended families, figuring out how to get to multiple houses, and worrying about getting the “GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip,” a “Turbo-Man,” or a “football helmet for Tommy” (movie fans should be able to figure out those three references). And let’s not forget balancing the monetary demands that accompany the largess of the holidays and the upcoming tax deadline. All this balancing requires Cirque Du Soleil skills, and juggling isn’t always that easy – or that much fun – when one’s life isn’t in balance and the pressures seem a little too much to handle.

When the holidays come, I wish I could forget all that balancing and be a kid again. Just the look in a child’s eye when she beholds something of wonder reminds me of the excitement I felt then, and during the holidays everything is geared toward showing a child something wonderful. In my part of the state there is the Polar Express; Santa’s Workshop; the Plaza lighting in Kansas City; the turning off of the lights in the Church of the Resurrection and the lighting of thousands of candles; and the Messiah Choir at the Community of Christ Church. All of these bring back the memories of times when there weren’t so many balls in the air, the balancing was easy, and there was the child-like joy of the season.

But not everyone had the best experiences during the holidays when they were kids. Not everyone does now. While the holidays are fun for many, that festivity makes it all the lonelier and off balance for others. It is the unfortunate irony of the holidays that the stress sometimes associated with this otherwise joyous season can add to personal struggles such as sadness, addiction, or grief. Some of us struggle, feel overwhelmed, and lose our balance.

So, this holiday season, give yourself permission to just focus on you for a minute. Put a few balls down and give a gift to yourself. During this past year, and likely during a good part of your life, you have given much of yourselves to help others; now, if you feel a little out of balance, take some time to give a little bit of yourself … to you. Just as financial planners tell you to pay yourself first, this holiday season pay yourself with some time to do the things you want to do.

As Missouri Bar President-Elect John Gunn pointed out in a wellness presentation at this year’s annual meeting, you first put on your air mask so that you are then able to help others. Find some time this holiday season to focus on yourself, on your health, and whatever it takes to get back your own balance. It isn’t selfish; you need to take care of yourself so that you are around to help others.

And after you take care of yourself, if you then want to do something for others, why not quit scrolling Amazon for that perfect gift that may become the perfect return? Instead, scroll through a list of charities that could use some help. There is nothing so rewarding as helping others, and the gift of your time and expertise would no doubt be appreciated.

Remember too that there are those in the profession to whom you can give gifts that don’t cost anything but are so welcomed: the gifts of appreciation and professional courtesy to those with whom we practice. Think about the people in your office who do so much to help you help others; those in the courts or in public service who have done good work; and opposing counsel in a case or in a deal who reflect the best in our profession. Write a note, send a text, extend a courtesy, and show some flexibility to them so as to make life easier for others. It takes no money and little time to do this, but it can make a world of difference in their lives. If you also just take a few minutes to write a note to your clients thanking them for allowing you the privilege of representing them, you will be surprised by how much that means to them.

Please also keep an eye out for your colleagues who seem to be struggling. They may be missing deadlines or hearings; they may be making excuses that don’t seem to make sense; they may be showing other signs of being off balance. Instead of the shoulder shrug or ignoring them, consider reaching out to them or those who better know them to see what can be done to help. Give them the gift of your compassion.

The new year is soon approaching, and you can then decide on your new year’s resolutions. No doubt weight loss and exercise are on some of those lists … again. But for now, resolve only to find balance during the holidays, relax, take pride in what you have done, and just enjoy yourself. You have earned this gift.


1 Thomas V. Bender is a member of the firm of Horn Aylward & Bandy, LLC in Kansas City.