Wrap Me Up Some Slack
I love giving gifts. It's one of my secret pleasures. Finding the right thing for someone, wrapping it so they can't wait to open it...what a thrill! Even for the holidays in which gift-giving is not the custom, the happy accident of discovering something which I know would be treasured by another (and procuring it for the right occasion) is a total high. During the holidays, we channel our generosity toward each other in the moment. Gifts are fine: they're fun, shiny diversions and quick pick me ups and they wrap up nicely for the holidays. Even with all that, there’s something special about focusing on someone else’s benefit. As the “Season of Giving” trails off in our rear view mirror, it dawns on me that every year we bemoan the passing of the holiday spirit. Why?
Maybe it is too idealistic or unrealistic to think our culture can be centered on giving to others throughout an entire year the way we do during the last few weeks of it.
And maybe that’s why we can’t see how we could have our gingerbread (or latkes or black-eyed peas…) and eat it too.
The way we do during the last few weeks of the year does not have to be the way we do it the rest of the year.
Maybe it can be even better.
So maybe the Season of Giving takes on a new form after January 1…
Hope springs eternal and more déjà vu
This is probably a good time to explain where I came up with the new and sustainable form of the Season of Giving.
A year ago, I looked back in my journals from 2013 and noticed something interesting. As the year came to a close, I had looked forward to 2014 with the usual optimism and excitement evoked by an impending fresh start, hoping that it would bring more ease, more harmony in the year to come. My entry echoed much of the same sentiments with which I now looked toward 2015.
Now, as I reread this past year’s journal entries and reflect, the year for which I had high hopes turned out to be just as tough if not tougher than 2013 for so many people. Me included. Yes, there were moments of excitement and victory amidst, and even because of, the trials and tribulations. That said, both times of challenge and life curves have been plentiful throughout 2014, and well before. ‘Twas ever thus. In my own life, there have been so many discoveries of someone who has been dealing with hardship for a long time before it was made known to others.
“I’m fine” is our way of preserving normal
When I stepped back to look at the bigger picture, it seemed everyone had been trying to manage their own difficulties privately when they could, so as to maintain the feeling of “normal” in the day to day. Shorter patience, heightened sensitivity and reduced attention spans may have been nipping at our heels, and even influencing our choices, but the other party would have no way of knowing why we did what we did, or how we came to feel what we felt because we chose to keep that to ourselves.
This discretion seems prudent in the majority of instances; otherwise we’d all be exhausted on a daily basis from each other’s TMI.
And yet…here’s the opportunity
So yes, as we’ve established, gifts are fine: they're fun, shiny diversions and quick pick-me-ups. And they "wrap up nice" for the holidays. But given that life is full of challenges for everyone, and given that we often have no idea what is truly going on in another’s life, the bigger gift, the sustainable one we can give to others and ourselves the whole year through, is:
- the patience we can have for each other
- the generosity we can express and offer each other
- the flexibility we can show when coming up against someone’s boundaries
- the space and latitude we can afford someone when things are stressed
- the forgiveness we can extend ourselves and the people in our lives who we may feel in the moment are contributing to our own stress levels
All I want for New Year’s is some slack and the benefit of the doubt
This could be the biggest gift ever.
When we are traversing difficulties we may be having with someone (including, ahem, ourselves) or when we are receiving someone else's expression of a difficulty they are having with us, how much richer could we all be for bringing some slack and benefit of the doubt to the scene? Make a little room for what we don’t know and for our own emotional triggers that oh so easily can send us to a No Man’s Land of I’m-Too-Offended-To Hear-You.
In virtually any culture, if we access a deeper level of consideration and tolerance (e.g. leniency) in our expectations of each other, we can bring ourselves the same ease we endow to the other person.
So I propose we start the year by giving gifts. And the beauty of these gifts is we get to reap the benefit of living generously all year long.