Fork in the Road: Thanks... I guess?
While a good majority of folks living in our neck of the woods are overjoyed at the season and are excited to share their “spirit” with all they encounter, the converse is that Christmas is rumoured to have the highest suicide rate out of any day throughout the year, not to mention many individuals go broke trying to afford gifts they feel obligated to purchase for others. There's also the rarely acknowledged fact that not everyone celebrates the season — whether due to personal or religious beliefs — and yet rather insensitively, we shove Christmas down everyone's throat (starting in October!) making it virtually impossible to ignore or get out of.
Yep, you guessed it. I'm one of those people. I'm anti-Christmas (at least the consumerist version of how the holiday is celebrated anymore) and yet year after year, despite pleading with family and friends that I'd really prefer not to partake, I'm saddled with guilt and obligatory gift-giving. But, at least my dislike of the holiday proves illustrative for this month's debate: the topic of what is “right” and what is “wrong”?
From a psychological perspective, answering this query seems rather straightforward: if you were driven in your actions by good faith and/or led by a strong positive moral compass, then your behaviour should be perceived as in the “right.” The “should be” part of this definition, however, is where our discussion takes notice.
Is an action “right” simply because the sender of an action was motivated by positive or “generally accepted/agreed upon” societal notions? What if, despite the sender's motivation, the action impacts the recipient negatively? Is the action still “right”? Should the recipient be expected to see past their own personal views and consider the motivation of the sender (act graciously despite their own hurt feelings or conflicted views about receipt of the action)? Or should the sender have been more thoughtful in considering that not all recipients can be treated in the same regard with the same outcome?
Basically, what I'm getting at are the very convoluted concepts of “political correctness” and “respect for difference”: ideas one can only wrap one's head around if one is willing and able to perceive, acknowledge and accept beliefs, ideas, lifestyles and practises that are divergent from one's own. Perhaps another example of this sort of conflict — one that continues to leave far harsher and life-altering scars — is worth noting.
When the colonial settlers first came to Canada, they observed what they deemed “strange” and “barbaric” customs exhibited by the natives who originally inhabited our territory. In what was passed off as the social good work of “civilizing the savages,” our ancestors manage to eradicate an entire culture and history of tradition. If that wasn't bad enough, this process frequently involved various forms of abuse, and at present, substance issues and criminal activity continue to rank high among many tribes of our nation's original settlers, as a result.
As far as the colonials (and Mother Britain) were concerned, their actions (or at least how they were “sold” to the wider world as efforts in “civilizing” versus what they were in reality domination tactics) were “justified” and for the “greater good” of the nation. Well, I think it goes without saying that there are plenty of people — native and non-native alike — who would strongly disagree. So again, I ask you: is something “right” simply because YOU think it so OR before making that determination, does one need to consider how their action(s) will be received (which of courses changes depending upon whom is to receive said action[s])?
Buying an anti-Christmaser Christmas presents is clearly a far stretch from subscribing to ethnocentrism and all of the vile things that have been done in its name, the underlying idea however is actually the same: both actions failed to acknowledge and respect “difference.” Whether this is right or wrong — well, that's something you'll have to determine for yourself given that one's morality is deeply connected to one's socialization and self-concept.
And so, though moral ground remains an ambiguous issue, there are three notable lessons I hope you'll grasp from this discussion:
1. Being “considerate, mature and respectful” doesn't involve forcing your personal beliefs, lifestyle practises, habits or customs etc. onto others, EVEN if those things are widely accepted and practised by greater society
2. Being “considerate, mature and respectful” involves taking into account how your actions will affect others
3. Being “considerate, mature and respectful” involves contemplating your actions in sincerity and determining that you're being driven by more than one's own selfish desires.
All of this brings me back to my point about Christmas: one has to wonder whether gifts continue to be given to me as a non- Christmaser because said individuals want to do something “nice” for me despite my objections (perhaps they don't take me seriously!) OR instead perhaps said individuals want to feel good about themselves by appearing generous to wider society through their participation in a widely accepted practise? There is a difference.
Irrespective of the rationale, however, to demonstrate my consideration, maturity and respect for difference, year after year I still exhibit gratitude toward the senders of these gifts. Further, I pay forward their generosity by passing on the gifts to local charitable donations. At least this way, the true “spirit” of Christmas gets to shine, if only for a moment.