When a new calendar year begins, we may all take stock of the year that is behind us, saving memories from loved ones who have passed on, cherish lessons learnt and hopes given, and missing enthusiasm, interest and even criticism. Sometimes, we cannot quite believe and get to terms with the loss of someone particularly close, and we may even wake up in the morning, thinking for a few minutes that the spouse or companion is still there, being taken by surprise when we realise that it was just in our mind or heart. And then we may sit down, reflect on lighter and more serious issues, and ask what would the dear one have done and said about the issues at hand. What would his or her opinion have been and how can that guide us? It doesn’t have to be the big words in written texts, in literature, religion, politics or other fields; it can be the simple things, such as a mother telling her child always to be helpful to his or her friend; even in old age that child may remember the basic lessons. That fact that someone is being remembered by her words and actions is part of the dimension of what we call ‘living forever’. We will be remembered and spoken about by those whose short life’s journey on earth is not yet over, and those who come after, too.

And then again, what is it that we remember most about those loved ones, who have passed on, close and near, and what is it that we admire most about those who are still active and forceful around us? And perhaps, too, what would we like others to remember about ourselves when the time comes that our life’s journey is over?

We are all idealists at the bottom, aren’t we, thinking by the heart rather than the mind? And we all want to do good, yet, in life’s hustle and bustle we may not always be able to do so as much as we should. We may not quite follow our calling and be the best we could be.

In my article last week, I wrote about that, namely about treading softly, taking time off to reflect, sit still and remind ourselves of what it is that is most important to ourselves and those around us. When I wrote last week’s article, I had just watched a Swedish film by Ingmar Bergman, “Saraband”, showing scenes from a marriage with the eminent character actors Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. The film showed scenes from lives that could have been so much better, if people who actually loved each other, or longed for loving each other, had been less proud, or maybe simply had given themselves time and opportunity to reflect on the important issues in life, indeed those of relationships with the nearest and dearest – before it had all become too late.

Many of us, maybe all of us, may live our lives in a hurry, prioritising wrongly, looking for fame and fortune, or other things that we believe is more important than the issues of love and concern for others, first those close to us, then all the others that we meet on life’s journey. Every time the historian and philosopher Karen Armstrong visits Pakistan, or she writes a new book, we are reminded of the importance of compassion, of feeling with others, of being able to see the suffering – and happiness – of the fellow travellers on life’s journey. Religious belief if important to her, but also the duty social action and good deeds, seeing and doing what is right and good.

Alexandra Pascalidou, 48, a Swedish human rights activist, journalist and writer of Greek heritage, gave an impressive summary of her life in a one-hour long interview on Swedish public broadcasting, SVT, on 7 January 2019. She said that what is most important in her life, and what should be top on the agenda for all, is to show concern for others and not accept injustice, and she added that this is obvious and it ought to be simple to follow. The competent TV anchor, Anna Hedenmo, asked if this agenda was a political left-wing agenda, as some have claimed, but Alexandra said that it was a universal agenda, supported by organisations such as the United Nation and the European Union. She said, that to be against the right-wing populists, many of whom with racist views, is very important, because they are against democracy and good values. But even those on that side of the political divide must be understood, although their views and actions must condemned; they must be forgiven if they change their views, said Alexandra.

Alexandra Pascalidou’s own life’s journey is impressive, from poverty, living as an outsider in Romania and Greece, with an unsteady alcoholic father and a mother who was doing her best, earning as a cleaner. From the age of six, her parents managed to move to Sweden, where her childhood was to be in one of Stockholm’s ‘problematic suburbs’, Rinkeby. Alexandra became the caregiver and responsible person in the home, often being awake at night worried about her siblings and parents.

That is true for immigrants in Sweden, one of the world’s fairest and richest countries in the world. I would add, it is also true for Pakistanis, some of the kindest people on earth, most of whom are poor, making the best out of life against many unfair and unjust systems and practices.

When we hear stories about unique people like Alexandra Pascalidou, we realise how fantastic a land like Sweden must be for immigrants, well, if the newcomers by chance and own efforts can make use of the opportunities they are given, but not all can. We also realise how lucky the host country is to receive immigrants like Alexandra and many others with talent in abundance – and how unlucky their sending country is to have lost them. Pakistan which is sending so many excellent people abroad should develop policies to keep them at home. They are essential for building ‘Naya Pakistan’, in the coming years, also next parliamentary term, and for generations into the future.

When Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister on Norway, Sweden’s close neighbour, said in her New Year’s speech that Norwegians should have more children to keep the population from declining, some Swedish columnists and media personalities were fast to defend the high immigration into Sweden, a policy that some are against, also criticising the integration policies since few reach as far and high as Alexandra Pascalidou, but most do alright. The opinion leaders said that Norway, having taken fewer immigrants, should perhaps have taken more. That would be more effective then to wait for ‘local production’ of children to fill the future needs of the labour force. Today, Norwegian women (and also Swedish women) on average give birth to only 1.6 child, which is too low to keep the population from declining. It is also a fact that in that field, over a couple of generations, immigrants change to a smaller number of children per family, even if they came from families with many children. It is not practical to have many children in Scandinavia. Incentives might be given to change that, but in the near future, it is better that immigrants especially refugees and others in need of a new homeland, are welcomed.

Watching out for one another is the imperative in the title of my article today. I have given a few examples of people who do that in my article today, and I have also suggested that how to do it may not be simple. The basics of empathy is simple, but how to practice it is more complicated. We realise that giving people opportunities and possibilities to participate is fundamental. We must do what we can so that people can be given their rights through democracy and participation, and we must make sure that we give room for development of good values, solidarity, empathy and compassion. Watching out for one another does not mean that we decide what is good and right for others.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.

We also realise how lucky the host country is to

receive immigrants like Alexandra and many others with talent in abundance – and how unlucky their sending country is to have lost them.