Ah, the holidays….cozy sweaters, warm fires, all the sweets you can eat, and lots of time with friends and family. For some, this is the most wonderful time of year. For others, not so much.
A woman told me the other day that she wished she could just sleep through the holidays. Time confined indoors with people she doesn’t like much; the stress of spending money on gifts for people called family that she barely knows; the constant revelry—all torture.
While some of us love the shopping and giving and eating and reminiscing of the season, others feel oppressed by it all. Even for those of us who love the holidays, spending time with people we hardly know or with whom we disagree can be stressful. For many, the only way to get through the holidays is to practice tolerance.
But tolerance is a strategy that just perpetuates the distance between us. Tolerance begets feelings of superiority and judgment. Tolerance requires constant vigilance, patience, and a steadfast discipline. Tolerance can be downright exhausting.
So how can we move beyond tolerance to a place of acceptance, even love? Curiosity is the key, as my first coach once helped me understand (shout out to Sylvette). In the middle of one of our conversations about how bored and disengaged I was with having to talk to one of my loved ones about things I could care less about, Sylvette said, “What if you approached these conversations with genuine curiosity?” I was struck by the novelty of it. I was so in my own head, focusing on what I thought about the subject matter, sure of my perspective on, well, everything, that I showed up with blinders on. I thought my ability to tolerate these conversations was kind. It wasn’t.
Coaches learn to ask powerful questions. By definition, our job requires us to be fully present and, above all, curious. But you don’t have to be trained as a coach to turn off the “I, me, mine” voice in your head. You can resolve to show up differently this year: with empathy and openness to the stories Uncle Ralph shares about how much he loves this politician or the other, to Grandma’s stories about what a troublemaker you were, to your sister’s comparisons of your children’s accomplishments. What if you listened intently to the details of their stories, to the context and the timing? What if you asked open-ended questions to draw them out and, perhaps, create a genuine dialogue? What would happen if you realized they are just stuck, or hurting, or afraid?
And for those of us (me!) who think no one is merely tolerating us, think again. When you feel that annual story forming on your lips about how funny it was that your sister broke her nose when she tripped on her nightgown and fell on her face 30 years ago on Christmas morning, tell a different story. Share a memory that illustrates how much you admire your sister, how much her being in your life makes everything a little brighter. Or better yet, ask her a really great question. It’s worth a shot.