Following the horrors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was much talk about how our lives would be forever changed.

Stuart Light

Stuart Light

We were going to find new ways to reach out to the less fortunate and desperate people in the world to improve living conditions and make the terrorist alternative less appealing. We spoke of embracing a new civility in our social and political discourse, and that we owed it to our children to protect the environment. We even talked about the need to change our culture here at home to reduce the glorification of violence and turn to more life-affirming values in our media and entertainment.

These were the hopes and dreams that so often find expression following great tragedies, and unfortunately dissipate as time passes and memory fades.

The truth is, not much has changed at all. Our entertainment is as blatantly sexual and violent as ever, if not more so. Political and social discourse has actually devolved into rigid antagonisms that are more polarized than ever. Climate-related catastrophes are on the increase, and mass killings with powerful military-style weapons seem to be coming in waves now, with the incomprehensible slaughter of so many innocents in Newtown, Conn., leaving us all in a state of shock and despair. Once again there’s talk of change. Once again …

Here we are in the midst of another holiday season — the stores are crowded and the Internet is buzzing with people seeking the appropriate gifts to give those they love, and in many cases, others they hardly know. But now more than ever the gifts we are buying are not those that are so desperately needed.

I’d like to suggest some alternative gift ideas that might help change our world into a kinder, gentler place — one human being at a time. It’s far from all that’s needed to be done, but we can do it now. At this time of national tragedy, please consider giving the following gifts, generously:

» Your love: Always the right size and shape, and it comes in all colors.

» Your time: It passes and never returns. Give it while you still have it.

» Your attention: Give it completely, especially to your children.

» Your gratitude: For everything and everyone in your life.

» Your forgiveness: To anyone who has ever hurt you.

» Your apology: To anyone you have ever hurt.

» Your trust: To those who have earned it.

» Your heart: It’s a fragile and precious gift, but don’t be afraid to give it.

» Your compassion. This will help you know what else to give and to whom.

» Your money: It can’t buy love, but it can help provide food, clothing and shelter.

— Stuart Light, M.A., M.Ed., serves as affiliate faculty in the Master’s in Clinical Psychology Program and also in the BA program at Antioch University Santa Barbara, as well as at Santa Barbara City College in the Alcohol and Drug Certification Program. He is the author of numerous articles, columns and essays on political, social and psychological issues that have been published in the Los Angeles Times, Santa Barbara News-Press, Santa Barbara Independent, Montecito Journal, Coastal Woman Magazine and the CAMFT Newsletter.