Today’s Courier Herald Column, in which I preach to myself as much as our regular readers here. I hope you each find time with family and friends over the next few days, find at least brief moments of peace on earth, and above all, find joy in your world.
Last Christmas was nearly picture perfect. For the first time in my lifetime, snow covered the ground and continued to fall as we opened presents and then ate Christmas dinner. The family was together, and most of us were on our best behavior. The children were glowing with all their newfound gifts. The adults appreciated everyone gathering and the time we had together. It was a home filled with the Christmas spirit.
Later in the afternoon as we were finishing another round of desserts, an email appeared on my phone that made me question that everyone was as quite caught up in holiday events. It was from a conservative activist whom I’ve never met but had recently been sent a friend request on Facebook. It was a forward of a message sent to his distribution list, typed in all caps. A lengthy screed about the “lies of Obamacare,” the message was laced with both invective about “liberals” and was rife with paranoia. Clearly, the sender wasn’t having the same Christmas experience I was.
I sent a reply back asking him if that was really the most important message that needed to be delivered on a day set aside for Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ, and requested he remove me from his distribution list. He replied that he didn’t even know why we were friends, and then blocked my account. Peace on earth had been restored, but goodwill toward men was on shaky ground.
Political activists are a unique lot, and I can say I’ve received similar emails, notes, and calls from my progressive friends that were ill timed as well. Inappropriateness of messaging is an equal opportunity offender. As the electorate has become more polarized, those who occupy the poles seem to be able to be concerned, offended and paranoid 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many of them want to make sure you are as well.
It’s not as if politics on holidays should be totally off limits. One of the things I look forward to each year is when my cousin returns home for a visit and we can discuss politics. He’s a bit of an outlier in the family, as he is an open progressive who I am told voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 because Al Gore was too conservative. But our conversations are not lectures that begin from positions of moral superiority and devolve into partisan talking points. He and I genuinely want to understand why an otherwise seemingly intelligent person can believe positions that are obviously so dumb. We will usually argue to a stalemate, but there is no bitterness, but often at least a bit more understanding. It’s all just good family discussion.
The Holiday season – from Thanksgiving, through Hanukkah and Christmas, and into New Year’s – is one we gather with family and friends. We give thanks for what we have and we demonstrate appreciation for those around us with gifts, meals, and above all, our time. Though the pace becomes more hectic than usual, and the financial strains become even greater as we try to balance budgets against gifts we wish to bestow, it remains a time where we try to give and receive joy.
Often the goal is elusive, but it remains a goal nonetheless. But as emails as I referenced above demonstrate, there are many who have become so consumed in the day to day battle of politics that there is little joy remaining.
Politics is a serious business, and should be taken seriously. But when the serious nature overtakes the ability to set politics aside, even for a one brief holiday, then we have already lost what it is we are fighting to save.
One of the things that often gets lost during the holiday pace is the proper time for reflection. As we wrap up the holidays over the next week and prepare to begin the year anew, a bit of time for perspective is in order for those of us who spend a disproportionate share of time in or around politics. While it can be all encompassing, we must remember that it is merely a means to an end.
The daily battles and struggles are only of value if they lead us to a better place. If the battles only increase bitterness and distance us from our neighbors, then we’re doing it wrong. The pursuit of happiness must occasionally include at least a glimpse of that goal.
With that, I’ll be taking a few days off of politics – save for a few friendly intra-family conversations. I would encourage you to do the same. This column will resume Tuesday. In the mean time, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. May you find peace on earth, and have goodwill toward men. Above all, I hope you find joy in your world.