Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Relating to the Other

There is a social dilemma which arises every year as the nights grow longer and the cold begins to set in. A misstep with the wrong person can cause tension, lectures and hurt feelings. This problem becomes even worse when you work in customer service. Not only do you have to confront the situation more often than others but you may be forced to react to it differently then you believe is correct. For that matter if you are not in the majority within a social group you may also find yourself forced to react in a way other than you would like to.

What could this end of year social mind field be? It's wishing a happy holidays to people we meet.

You will notice that I have chosen to use the blandest, most neutral and impersonal version in the sentence above. I do not celebrate "the holidays." My family has a nice set of Christmas traditions that we celebrate, and I enjoy that.

Why am I even talking about this? What does it have to do with personal growth? Am I just stretching to find a Christmas topic?

The answer to the first question I will show you, to the second maybe.

The problem here is that we are given to believe that if we offer someone the wrong holiday greeting they may find it offensive. It can become socially awkward when we say "Merry Christmas" and they respond "I'm Jewish" or "I celebrate the solstice." At the core of this awkwardness is the fact that celebrating different holidays puts us in different boxes. There is the Christmas box, the Solstice box, the Hanukkah box, the Kwanzaa box - all these boxes make us "other" to one another.

But perhaps, just maybe, with a smile and some good will we can change the social perception of our holiday greeting from a charge to identity and transform it into a point of understanding. Instead of implying (as some people seem to believe) "I celebrate X holiday and you should too," perhaps we can learn to hear, "This is me, who are you?"

When we ask this simple question in the subtext of our interactions with others it can break down the walls that build up between us and them, me and yourself. The place where we are the same as others is where we connect, but the places where we are different are where we learn to tolerate, find beauty, and in the interaction between those differences, find truth.

When we learn to understand that the differences in others do not mean they are out to get us, impose there beliefs on us, or change us to be like them, then we can move closer to setting aside fear.


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