One of the most wonderful aspects of the Holiday season that comes at this time of the year is the common practice of being nicer than one may be at other times. This year, however, I sense a difference. It may be a holdover from our recent very contentious U.S. Presidential election, and if so, hopefully the problems will be abated soon. I am afraid, however, that the behavior could be representative of a decline in our overall civility that is more lasting. Regardless, it is palpable. The most graphic example was just on the news about a 3-year-old child who was riding in his grandmother’s car. They were going shopping. Per the report a man in the car behind them was angry because the woman was driving too slowly and fired a shot into the car, killing the child. How so very tragic. What type of people and society have we become when the drive to get to our destination fast causes someone to express anger that results in the loss of another life?
Lately I have noticed more reckless driving and rude drivers than I have ever experienced. Many people are in a hurry to get to where they are going, and they are intolerant of others who are in their way. There is a complicating factor in this. While I do not understand why, there always seems to be more construction and lane closures at the holiday time than at other times. Also, many people are stressed by the holidays, not allowing enough time to get to their destination, so when they are slowed down by traffic interruptions, they become angry. The anger is expressed in numerous ways. Then there is the personality type who just thinks their needs should take priority, and travel in the lane running out until the very end, then merge into the remaining lane ahead of those who have driven respectfully.
There are some obvious solutions to this. While these solutions will not solve all problems, including the extreme one noted above, many of us will be able to behave appropriately if we make a few changes. It is certainly worth a try.
#1. Allow more time when traveling, and expect delays. Even if you think you do not have any more time, recognize that at times like the holidays with more people on the roads more often, travelling anywhere will take more time. You can allow for it, and be in control of yourself, or you can push yourself to the limit, suffer delays, and get angry and anxious because of it. And still often arrive late because you did not allow enough time. Give yourself a fifteen to thirty-minute head start, and feel the difference. Things just take longer at this time of the year. Accept that, do not fight it. Work with it.
#2. Be more patient and nicer. This will be much easier if you have done #1. Recognize that many people are stressed, with less time and money than they need, or think they need. Be the person who is in control of yourself, so you can be the one who does not react in kind to the stress of others. Being nicer includes to smile more. When you do, you will feel the difference, and others will as well.
#3. Give more. This can obviously include giving more financially, to the Salvation Army buckets located everywhere you go, to the homeless person on the street corner, or to your charity of choice. Our giving does not have to be giving money, however. One of the greatest gifts we can give is the gift of time and assistance. Offer your assistance wherever and whenever you can. This can include offering to keep a friend’s children so she can do what she needs to get done. It can be holding doors for others, or helping others carry their packages. I will always remember Sharon, a woman I did not know, who insisted on pushing my overloaded grocery cart at Costco to my car. I was shopping for 60 people who were coming for Thanksgiving last year. She could see that I was exhausted, and reached out to help. She had done #1 above or she would not have had the time to help me, even if she had wanted to. I looked for Sharon at Costco while shopping for Thanksgiving this year, but did not find her! Thankfully I had done #1 above this year, and allowed more time to do what needed to be done, so I was ok without Sharon’s help. But I will always remember her kindness.
As I think of the three solutions noted, it occurs to me that they are listed in the necessary order. If we don’t allow ourselves more time to do what we need to do, it is more difficult to be patient with others, and nicer. When we are pushed for time, it is not easy to help others, or give of our time to them.
The man who killed the three-year-old child is (hopefully, at least) an extreme example of behavior that can be exasperated by the additional stress of the holidays. I am in no way thinking the solutions proposed above would have avoided such a tragic event. While being out of time and other stressors can make many of us less patient and nice than we are at other times, most people would certainly not use a gun in those situations. Certainly, our civility has not fallen to that level.
While I still struggle with the negative behavior and language expressed at others by some people during our recent Presidential election, I do believe most people are good people, and show respect for others in most situations at most times. Even when, and maybe especially when, we disagree. So, let’s be sure that we do that. Let’s be sure to model respectful behavior to others. Doing so can create a positive tidal wave that will carry us all together into a better future.
May all your holidays be merry and bright. And God bless us everyone. And especially the family of the three-year-old child who is now singing with the angels.