(Comic: “Happy Holidays” | December 22, 2008)
Is the phrase “Merry Christmas” offensive and, dare I say it, triggering? To some, no. To others, yes. To many, they couldn’t care less. Does it matter? In a way, it might matter more than you could ever imagine. Get ready because I’m about to ring your jingle bell!
Right-Wingers and Leftists
Your average right-winger deems leftists as triggered snowflakes. Meanwhile, your average leftist pegs right-wingers as heartless bastards. Notice a problem? These are generalizations to be sure (outliers notwithstanding), but generalizations are such for a reason. What’s going on here?
First off, to condemn an entire group of people with seemingly contrasting beliefs than yours is lazy at best. Yet, should you walk on eggshells all day long, hiding your views so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings regardless of which camp you are in? Yes and no.
Live and life or death happen
Our human brains tend to operate on a binary basis: on or off, in or out, up or down, etc. This isn’t bad, per se. We needed this method of thinking to survive eons of life on this dangerous planet. We needed to know if people were potential mates (i.e., opposite gender), if animals were docile or deadly, if the food was edible or poisonous, and so on. Erroring on the side of a perceived spectrum usually ended up in the ultimate fail… death.
We don’t live in that life-or-death world any longer. That said, we’ll always be navigating a terrain in one way or another. In our day and age, it’s a social minefield; a softer battle but still as precarious. We operate on social capital, whether we like it or not. Railroading people with our beliefs reduce our social capital. Is saying “Merry Christmas” railroading people? I don’t think so, but they may. And there’s the rub.
How to navigate the unknown
So what do you do? Listen.
When you meet someone, pay attention to what they say. Usually, people will tell you all you need to know about themselves in a few sentences. If you’re perceptive, you’ll figure out how to respond. If someone says, “I still haven’t bought all my gifts,” chances are they celebrate Christmas. If they say, “I’m getting ready for eight crazy nights,” they may be Jewish. If they say, “The origins of Christmas are nefarious and deeply disturbing. What’s more disturbing is the blatant commercialization and saccharine platitudes that veil our true human desires and insecurities…” You get the idea.
You don’t have to be generic in your well-wishes, yet you simply can no longer assume a common outlook. Take a moment to understand the other person in front of you before shoving a Santa hat on their head and wishing them “Merry Christmas!” They may love that, but it doesn’t hurt to gauge their holiday inclinations first.
May your interactions be merry and bright
In the comic above, Mr. Argyle is sensitive to differing beliefs. Yet, his approach is generic and robotic. What if he got to know his employees and asked them what days they observe if any? He could then tailor his cards appropriately. It’s a bit more work, but it’s more thoughtful than, “Here’s your generic card.”
I’m doing my best to respect the beliefs of others. Sure, it would be easier if everybody celebrated the same way, but that’s not the case. Heck, even I went from observing Christmas to opposing it and back to observing. I’ve been blessed with people who were patient and understanding of my journey. I’d like to pay that forward.
The best gift we can give to another person is the gift of understanding. That gift involves our time, effort, thought, and care. Do that and witness some holiday glow. After all, it’s the thought that counts.