At this time of year, “Happy Holidays” is a ubiquitous slogan. We wish each other a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, or whatever holiday we celebrate. Ostensibly, we’re all excited to get a day off and spend time with our families. In reality, surveys show that this time of year is extremely stressful and almost half of adults feel an increased level of worry related to seeing family.
Inevitably, relationships become more complex as time goes on and the Holidays force us to face these complexities – or to pretend they don’t exist. Nonetheless, for most of us, we still want to be with our families. Given the stress it may bring us, how do we make sure we are telling the truth when we say, “Happy Holidays?”
In any long-term relationship, there is bound to be conflict. In today’s world, it is much easier than it used to be to cut out or diminish the voices of people whose presence is stressful. With greater independence and quicker shifts in values and perspectives, there is less incentive to do the often-painful work of reconciling, forgiving, and changing. As a result, more people are estranged from their families than ever before. We are lonelier and feel more isolated. It always feels easier to live with loneliness today rather than go through the acute difficulty of having hard conversations. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that becomes harder to break every day.
Sometimes, cutting someone out of our lives is truly the only thing we can do to preserve our mental or physical health. Sometimes, it’s the choice we make because it’s easier than having a hard conversation. When we contemplate having that conversation we’re dreading, there are usually three competing needs:
1. The need to be heard, with our perspective accepted as a valid one
2. The need to limit the guilt we feel
3. The need to protect our self-image
The first of these is only halfway in our own control. It is incumbent upon both people in any relationship to be willing to listen to understand rather than to respond. The second of these is a very common reason for a relationship to stay distant. It is very difficult to accept the true weight of the damage our own actions may have caused, and so easy to remove all the reminders of that guilt. The third of these needs is directly related to the second. We all have an idea of who we are. We know our intentions and can interpret our actions in light of that knowledge. We have a story that explains us to ourselves. It is almost physically painful to have that story challenged or contradicted. In Tumfo Tu, we learn that the story we tell ourselves to explain ourselves is never truly accurate. The only way we can grow is to be willing to live outside of the confines of that story.
Tumfo Tu students practice demonstrating skills we are barely even comfortable with in front of an audience to force us to accept the reality of who and what we are. We want to believe we’re great orators, but we stutter when the time comes to speak. We think we have great endurance, but we fold when the right sort of pressure comes along. We think we are patient, but we lose our temper when the right buttons get pushed. We are what we are. It feels very risky to embrace our true, flawed, hypocritical selves that do not match the version in our story. We think others might reject us – or that we might even reject ourselves. And yet, real long-term relationships with others, our families, and even ourselves requires the courage to face ourselves. We may feel strong inside our story, but true strength only lies in having the courage to set that story aside.
In life, every step is a risk. It takes enormous courage to live. It takes even more to love. This Holiday Season, have courage. Take the step.