Practicing Empathy

I don’t normally venture into controversial topics and I do not like talking about politics even with people that I agree with. There is a war regarding the holidays I was unaware of how strongly people felt about it until recently. The war I’m referring to is over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. I happen to be a Christian and I do celebrate Christmas. I also went to a very diverse high school and a lot of my classmates didn’t celebrate Christmas. I’ve always leaned towards saying “Happy Holidays” for a few reasons. One, someone might not celebrate Christmas. The second, which makes more sense to me is that saying “Happy Holidays” is easier and quicker to say than “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year”. Why say both of these when I can say one thing that covers both? I swear that most of my reasoning is anchored in efficiency. I started bidding patients where I work goodbye with “Happy Holidays”. I was surprised by how upset it made people. People would glare at me and in an angry tone say “ And a Merry Christmas”. This confused me. I wasn’t telling them not to celebrate Christmas. I wasn’t telling them not to wish me a Merry Christmas. I was just saying “Happy Holidays” so that I had to say fewer things and be more inclusive. I really don’t care if someone says either thing. What I didn’t understand was the absolute anger and venom I was greeted with. 

Why were they so irate that I wasn’t saying what they wanted me to say? I spent a lot of time thinking about this. The area where I work is experiencing a lot of development and growth. I know people who have lived in the area for a long time, and a lot of them don’t like the change. I know this because they tell me. Me saying “Happy Holidays” represented the world changing from what they knew and are comfortable with. Things changing is scary. I, myself, don’t like change a lot. I plan everything I can and try to control the variables I can in an effort to soothe my neverending OCD. I didn’t like the rudeness and angry stares I received. It made me angry that they were being intolerant of me simply saying something different than they did. I sat with my anger for a bit and then I started thinking about how it must be from their perspective. They’ve grown up and lived in a certain geographical area their entire life. They have gone from living in what was a small farming community to what is now a booming suburb. There’s probably more noise and more people who they don’t understand. Having lived in one place my entire life, the idea of my birthplace and home going under radical changes would no doubt be difficult. While these individuals were being unkind to me, I was pushed towards feeling empathy for them and wondering what I would feel if I was in their shoes. 

I feel empathy for the difficulties they are experiencing and I also want to be sure that I’m choosing to be open to new experiences. I want to look for the positive in the changes that occur around me every day. When change is hard, I don’t want to blame an individual who’s doing something a bit different. I want to be able to look inwardly and get to the root of what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it. Empathy helps me discover new things and I’m grateful for that. 


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