No More Naughty and Nice

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Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from my column this month as I finish up the second edition of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum. So I’m rerunning some Christmas columns that I enjoyed from years past. Here’s one that ran in Saskatchewan today, about giving ourselves a fresh start at Christmas.

No More Naughty and NiceHave you been making a list? Checking it twice? Do you know who’s naughty and nice?

Of course you do! Most of us can easily identify the two or three people in our families who are complete screw-ups (though of course we’d never put ourselves in that category). We can recite their faults at the drop of a hat. In fact, it’s one of our favourite hobbies when sitting around the family table. “Hey, kids, do you know why Billy Bob’s nose is crooked? It’s ’cause twenty-four years ago he tried to rob the Kwik-E-Mart with Nana’s Queen Size nylons over his face, but he tripped on the curb since he couldn’t see and spent the night in the ER instead!” We can never get enough of stories like that.

My theory is that we do this because human beings are essentially lazy.

And one way that we avoid work is we like to categorize things, and people, so we don’t have to think anymore. My little brother is the black sheep. My mother is the martyr. Uncle Jim is the drunk. We’ve got it all sorted out.

Once that category is created, though, we don’t like to change it. It requires too big a shift in our thought patterns. So what if Uncle Jim has been sober for nineteen years? Let’s still laugh over the time he passed out and landed right in the Christmas cranberry sauce.

Family may love you, but quite often they pigeonhole you, too.

People tend to have an easier time reinventing themselves outside of the bosom of their families, because families remember your infractions. My brother-in-law, for instance, failed his driver’s test on his first attempt because, though he is an infinitely superior parallel parker than yours truly, he failed to get out of the way of a wailing ambulance. That Christmas, his father helpfully wrapped up one of those Tonka toy ambulances, just so he wouldn’t forget his stupidity. He may be a successful businessman now, but the family still likes to laugh about it. I, of course, am the exception, since I would never try to rub that one in by announcing it to the world or anything.

Another friend of mine has had a rough adult life. Things have just not gone his way. Recently, he pulled up stakes and moved to the other side of the country, where he’s thriving. People don’t think of him in terms of his past mistakes, because they don’t know them. They look at who he is now and at what he’s capable of doing. And they love him for it.

Perhaps this Christmas might be a good time to start treating our family members as strangers.

Don’t think of them in terms of all the mistakes they’ve made, or the ways they’ve hurt you in the past. Don’t replay those cruel words they said ten years ago. Instead, while you’re sitting down to turkey, look at everyone in your family and ask, “who are they today?” And if they’re kind, if they’re successful, if they’re trying, then celebrate that.

After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The Christmas story is one of new starts: in the religious tradition, God sent His Son so that we could be forgiven. We’d have a clean slate. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could extend that kind of grace to others in our families this year?

Everyone deserves a new start. Even you.

So Merry Christmas to all of you, and to all of your families, too. May this be a season of grace, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

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  1. AMEN to that!

  2. Oh, thank you, thank you & thank you for this post today. We have had several family issues this year that have caused hurt feelings! We have been stepping out in faith trying to heal & mend among family. To some degree this is working. We just keep praying that in time others will come around! We just keep praying & loving!

  3. This is great! We haven’t started that sort of thing with our family yet, so this is a really good heads up not to start. Or to at least be aware of it and nip it in the bud if it does start.

  4. Actually, this is a well documented human behavior. It’s called Downward Social Comparison. Basically, we tend to look down on others to raise our own worth, thereby fooling ourselves into being happier, “Well, at least I’m not that guy”. The correlation to this is that we tend to downplay other people’s skills while increasing our own evaluation of our own skills. We see this in phrases like “He got lucky with that shot”. It couldn’t possibly be his skill after all….or else he might be better than us in some way…and that just can’t be.
    Jay Dee – recently posted…Book Review: The Fantasy FallacyMy Profile

  5. Oh how I wish my family would read this!! They cannot seem to forgive my husband for his past transgressions. Failing to remember that they themselves are not perfect. We are all just sinners saved by Gods grace. Holidays are hard on me as I must split them between two different places :( it just stinks, it really does.

  6. I totally agree. Forgive and forget those who have wrong you. In fact, life is too short to waste too much time in the not so good dramas of life. LIVE.LAUGH.LOVE. :)
    Mai recently posted…The Power of Positive Thought in MarriageMy Profile

  7. So true. We want other people to see us the way we are today and notice how we’ve grown, but we still bring up other people’s embarrassing moments or pigeonhole them based on past behaviour. Thanks for the food for thought!

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