Well, it’s officially here: The start of the holiday season! While some people eagerly wait for 365 entire days to finally break out the Mariah Carey Christmas album, the holiday season can be complicated for many. While it can inspire a spirit of charity and kinship with other human beings, it can simultaneously magnify any perceived deficiencies in our lives: Our loneliness seems bigger, we feel swallowed up by our inadequacies, and we feel less financially prosperous than we would like.
Thanksgiving, in particular, is a very interesting phenomenon in the United States. It is a beautiful occasion full of the sentiments we aspire to carry in our hearts every day of the year: Gratitude, compassion, hope for the future, and cherished times with family and friends.
Then, after the parade of eating is over and we have settled comfortably into our elastic-waist pajamas, we wake up to the next phase of the holiday weekend…
Suddenly, all the charitable goodwill gives way to ruthless crowds in retail stores, pushing, shoving, and cursing each other to snatch the last iPhone from the shelves.
How does the giving spirit of Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day turn into such inconsiderate behavior the next day?
Of course, not everyone succumbs to the extreme behaviors we always hear about from Black Friday shopping. But isn’t it interesting how all of these extremes reside within us simultaneously? For a moment, can we stop to appreciate the coexistence of so many seeming opposites within us? Compassion and greed, selflessness and narrow-mindedness, a listening ear and harsh judgment…they are all within us at the same time.
While these dualities may seem like a bit of a bummer, there is also a major silver lining here. Maybe, just maybe, the most promising way to channel our inner spirit of compassion during the holiday season and beyond, is to simply remember that we all have these extremes within us. This thread of the shared humanity among us can help us look past our many perceived differences. Where there is anger, there is also joy and sadness and fear and, most of all, a desire to be loved and appreciated for who we are. It’s all too easy to forget this most basic emotional need that we all have, largely because we each express that need in different ways. Unfortunately, sometimes the expression of that need for love and acceptance can seem hostile or repulsive to others.
However, if we can remember to take a breath the next time we experience a negative or hostile encounter with another person this holiday season, we can come back to that space of compassion we all have within, the space that can identify with that innate need to feel loved and valued for who we are. While that in itself may not be enough to turn a negative encounter into one filled with hugs and rainbows, it can be enough to keep a negative situation from escalating into a worse one. And at best, it can remind all parties to focus on really hearing each other, rather than reacting to the domino-effect of negative emotional energy.
We wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!