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How You’re Ruining Christmas – And What You Can Do to Save It

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How You’re Ruining Christmas – And What You Can Do to Save It

How You're Ruining Christmas - And What You Can Do to Save It

    You’re ruining Christmas.

    Not for me – how could you ruin it for me? No, you’re ruining it for yourself, for your family and friends, for everyone who loves you and who you love in return.

    You started in August, when you saw the first little corner of the Mega-Mart decked out with Christmas bows and dancing Santas. It was just a few little grumbles then, but by Halloween it had grown into a roar. Every Christmas decoration, every carol, every artificial tree display you took as a personal affront.

    “Can you believe it? Greedy bastards!”

    “Ugh, Christmas is so commercial now. Wake me up for New Years!”

    “Look at those people fighting over toys like animals. They’re disgusting.”

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    And on and on and on and on and on. We get it. You HATE Christmas!

    What’s that? You don’t hate Christmas? You say you just hate the materialism of it, the way it’s turned from a wonderful tradition into a buying frenzy, the forced gift-giving, the greedy little children waiting to open the latest whiz-bang-o on Christmas morning?

    I see. You hate that everyone else just doesn’t get it. Not like you do.

    OK, so: what are you going to do about it? Because nobody can ruin your Christmas but you. Not a thousand Grinches, not a million Scrooges, not a googol saccharine greeting card ads.

    How to save Christmas

    1. Give gifts.

    I know this whole “mandatory gift-giving” thing is a drag. Why can’t you just give gifts when you feel like, instead of when society tells you to?

    Here’s the thing: in every society in the world, gift-giving is an obligation. One of the highest obligations, actually. It is the fundamental basis of all human economic behavior. Here’s why: giving gifts ties us together in a profound way. It creates a web of reciprocity that binds us, one to the other.

    Consider what a student told me about his family’s gift-giving tradition some years ago. He has 4 brothers, all scattered around the nation, reuniting in the family home in Queens, NY, every Christmas. On Christmas morning, they meet around the tree, and each gives the other $100. Cash.

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    There’s a practical reason: they don’t all want to fly home laden with bulky presents, then fly away laden with new ones – and they don’t want to get home just to find that the present they picked out is unwanted. But if you’re doing the math, you’re noticing something odd. Each gives the other $100. That’s $400 out ($100 to each of 4 brothers) and $400 back ($100 from each of four brothers). It’s a wash.

    And yet, something happened there. It’s clearer if you ask yourself: why $100? Why not $20, since nobody was coming out of the exchange ahead? Or why not $1000? Or a million? After all, nothing’s coming out of anyone’s pocket, right?

    They give each other $100 because they’re brothers, and because that feels right for a gift for a brother. You don’t give nothing, because that’s like saying your relationship isn’t worth anything. You don’t give a crazy amount, because that’s absurd.

    The point is, quite literally, that it’s the thought that counts. We say it all the time, but they actually mean it.

    So you’re going to give gifts. Because you think highly of the people around you.

    2. Embrace materialism.

    I know, you don’t mind giving gifts, it’s the materialism of it. Why do you have to go out, braving the maddened crowds, overflowing parking lots, and bitter winter cold to prove to your family and friends that you love them?

    Well, you can make gifts, and if you’re talented at making things, by all means go ahead and make to your heart’s content. But here’s the rub: most of us aren’t. Good at making stuff, that is. We spent years developing a set of skills that allow us to get along in life, and making things isn’t really on that list. You can market the heck out of just about anything, balance the yearly books, make a global distribution network sing, or serve up platters of pasta like nobody’s business – but those highly developed skills don’t really translate to Christmas morning goodies.

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    Here’s what you are good at: you’re good at shopping. You do it to survive, and you’re still alive, right? I know that seems cold and detached to you, but seriously: it’s humanity’s oldest skill. 100,000 years ago your great-great-great-great[…]-great-grandmother walked through the savannas, forests, deserts, and river bottoms of Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia looking for food and raw materials, and every now and again she grabbed a nice melon or a juicy turtle thinking “You know who would like this? Sally in accounting would just eat this up!”

    That’s what you’re doing out there in the malls, craft fairs, and boutiques of the Christmas season: putting your own survival needs on hold for a minute while you consider the needs and desires of the people you love. Putting your skills to the test as surely as your woodworking father or candle-making aunt is.

    3. Sing a carol. Decorate a tree.

    It’s amazing to me that people can decry the materialism of Christmas in the same breath as they complain about hearing “Silent Night” or “Little Drummer Boy” over the PA.

    I mean, we say we want to strip away the materialism so we can get at the “real meaning” of Christmas. Well, here’s the thing: those Christmas carols are the meaning of Christmas. They’re songs about love, joy, peace, and happiness – all things that we’ve been trained to see as stupid. That’s right – we are a cold, detached, ironic, cool-seeking people who hates songs that talk about being happy as if it were something people could do.

    Put that in your corn-cob pipe and smoke it.

    Christmas carols are our Christmas traditions. Some of them are hundreds of years old. They connect us with our parents, and their parents, and their parents parents, and so on – to people who wouldn’t know a Tickle-Me Elmo if it bit them on their bellies like bowls full of jelly.

    Take away the gift-giving, and what we have are the songs, the red-and-green tinsel, the soft glow of the tree. Kids laughing. Seriously, you’re gonna bah-humbug Christmas carols?

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    4. Go to church. Or don’t.

    For some of us, Christmas is a religious holiday. Not all of us. Maybe not even most of us. But if you’re one of the people for whom this day is important because it marks the birth of Our Lord and Savior, by all means, go to church. Celebrate. Pray. Give thanks. It’s a wondrous thing, to have a messiah.

    But for many of us, Christmas is a day off from work, a day full of tradition and a spirit of giving that lets us be with our families. That’s not nothing! We live scattered lives – even if we live in the same city as the rest of our family, which is pretty unlikely, there’s a pretty good chance we don’t see them as often as we’d like. We don’t celebrate them as often as we’d like. And certainly not all together, in one place, with gifts and feasting and songs.

    Let’s say you give up the gift-giving. No more materialism for you! And let’s say you give up the carols. And the tree. See, I get all that. I disagree, but I get it. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. I understand.

    But there’s your family, all with the same day off. Who cares why – you all have the day off! That’s a rare and special thing. So what are you going to do?

    You could do what Jews have been doing for the last two millennia: catch a movie with your family and go out for Chinese. It’s great: the roads are practically empty, there’s always a great selection Christmas week (as studios rush to get their big Oscar contenders out before the year-end deadline), and Chinese food is delicious. What’s more, you’ll spend the whole day relaxing with your family, just enjoying each other’s company.

    Or create your own traditions. Go sledding or hiking or kite flying (for our readers in the Southern Hemisphere). Pull out the photo albums and play “What was I thinking?!” Play GiftTRAP or some other party game.

    4. Stop your whining and have a merry Christmas!

    The world is how it is. We’re consumers, and we live in a commercialized society. If that bothers you – and it should – by all means, devote yourself to changing the world. But start December 26th and keep at it until next November, when it’s needed. Everyone’s a critic from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and we do nothing about it.

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    Becoming a revolutionary for the Christmas season isn’t helping. All it’s doing is ruining your holidays for you, and for everyone who cares about you. Instead of whining about how much Christmas sucks, how about applying some positive thinking to finding the special core that makes Christmas work for you, whether that’s the social relationships that Christmas gift-giving cements into something solid and enduring, the traditions that give us permission to imagine a world in which being good to one another isn’t an absurdity, or the time you get to  spend celebrating your family.

    It’s up to you. The stores are doing what they have to do to make money, which is their job. The mobs of shoppers are doing what they have to do to make their Christmas work for them. You’re the only one who can make Christmas special. You’ve got a week. Have at it!

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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