Two Christmas Stories

Published: December 24, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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Although faith is not an ethical value, its importance in driving ethical conduct should not be underestimated. In fact, the word faith comes from the Latin fidere meaning ‘to trust.’ According to the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, “Faith is an attitude or belief which goes beyond the available evidence.”

This first story (Dec. 19) I saw twice on the CBS Evening News and was very moved not only because of the generosity and anonymity of the individual who puts up the money, but in his choice of delivery agents this year. CBS News reporter Steve Hartman is good at stories that warm the heart, but all of the individuals handing out the money this year are a reminder that there’s a lot of good news out there in spite of what we hear and read in the news.


“Earlier this month, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department was out looking for people. And when they spotted a subject, they went after them, in a sting operation the likes of which this country has never seen.

“What made this operation especially unusual was the man behind it: a fellow in a red hat — known to these men only as ‘Secret Santa.’

“Every year this anonymous, wealthy businessman gives out about a hundred thousand dollars worth of hundred dollar bills to random strangers. But this year, instead of doing it all himself, he deputized these deputies to give away much of it.

“ ‘Let’s start with a thousand,’ Secret Santa said as he gave the deputies the money.
And so, armed to the teeth with Benjamins, the officers went out to do Santa’s bidding. They specifically went after people they thought would appreciate it most. Cars driving while dented — or out on Bondo — were likely targets.

“ ‘Merry Christmas,’ a deputy said while handing money to a driver.

“ ‘You’re kidding. Oh my God, no,’ answered the driver in disbelief.

“Most people weren’t just blown away — most people were moved to tears. Their reactions were a combination of really needing the money and being caught off guard. We saw Jessica Rodriguez, a mother of three, get pulled over. While the deputy walked to her car, Rodriguez talked to someone on her cell phone to tell them she’d been pulled over for ‘no cause.’

“ ‘How you doing, m’am?’ the deputy asked her.

“ ‘I’m good until you pulled me over,’ she answered.

“ ‘Okay, well, on behalf of Secret Santa, he wants you to have this, OK?’ the deputy said as he handed her money.

“Rodriguez told the deputy he saved her Christmas.

“ ‘I wasn’t going to be able to get my kids anything,’ she told him.

“ ‘Well, I hope you may be able to get your kids something with it,’ he said.

“As always, creating moments like that is the main mission here. But this year ‘Secret Santa’ also had a secret agenda.

“ ‘What do you want the officers to get out of this?’ I asked him.

“ ‘Joy,’ he answered. ‘You know, as tough as they are they have hearts that are bigger than the world.’

“Let’s face it, it hasn’t been a good year for law enforcement — but for the vast majority of decent officers who will never make headlines — Secret Santa offered this gift. A chance to be bearer of good news for a change, a chance to really help the homeless, to thank the law-abiders, to see hands up in celebration and then be assaulted in the best possible way.

“There were a lot of hugs. Our body cameras took a real beating, but it was worth it — just to see people trust again and to see cops surrender.”

The second story comes from writer Norman Corwin. I was fortunate enough to not only have Norman contribute to my book, “What Do You Stand For?,” but enjoy him as a good friend and advisor, as well.

This simple story of responsibility and compassion reminds me that changing the world begins with each of us making an individual difference.

“Years ago, while watching a baseball game on TV, I saw Orel Hershiser, pitching for the Dodgers, throw a fastball that hit a batter. The camera was on a close-up of Hershiser, and I could read his lips as he mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’ The batter, taking first base, nodded to the pitcher in a friendly way, and the game went on.

“Just two words, and I felt good about Hershiser and the batter and the game all at once. Only a common courtesy, but it made an impression striking enough for me to remember after many a summer.

“Look, let’s not kid ourselves. It would be foolish to hope that kindness, consideration, and compassion will right wrongs, heal wounds, keep the peace, and set the new millennium on course to recover from inherited ills. That would be asking a lot from even a heaven-sent methodology, and heaven is not in that business. But why linger? Why wait to begin planting seeds, however long they take to germinate? It took us 200-plus years to get into the straits we now occupy, and it may take us long again to get out, but there must be a beginning.

“It comes down to the value of exemplars, which can be either positive or negative, and it works like this: Because of the principle that a calm sea and a prosperous voyage do not make news but a shipwreck does, most circulated news is bad news. The badness of it is publicized, and the negative publicity attracts more of the same through imitation.

“But good can be as communicable and catching as evil, and this is where kindness and compassion come into play. So long as conscionable and caring people are around, so long as they are not muted or exiled, so long as they remain alert in thought and action, there is a chance for contagions of the right stuff, whereby democracy becomes no longer a choice of lesser evils, whereby the right to vote is not betrayed by staying away from the polls, whereby the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and dissent are never forsaken.

“Faith,” Saint Augustine said, “is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Merry Christmas everyone!


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