12.25.2019 Friendship | Family | Intimacy

Have More Meaningful Holiday Conversations

Danielle Beinstein
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Holidays. Ever had the experience of pre-planning a conversation, strategizing the necessary retorts to a whole slew of anticipated questions? Of course, the exchange never goes as planned. Yet, we do it anyway. Sometimes it’s because we’re gunning for a fight, a walking collection of raw nerves in need of release. Sometimes we’re unsure of our path, navigating the social anxiety that accompanies the seemingly endless pressures of modern life. And sometimes we just crave an interested ear.

Still, our lives cannot be reduced to “Whatcha been up to?” It’s only human to feel defensive at its ask, even if the intention was benign.

In theory, the holidays are a time for gathering with loved ones. But for many, the holidays are a marker in time, a reminder of how far we feel we have or haven’t come on our journey. And more often than not, they stand, like a hall of mirrors, as projection screens of our self-worth.

What is it that we fear others will think… will say? Truth is, we already hold ourselves in this regard subconsciously. We’re already telling ourselves the same story. Whether we’re entering a room full of family members or complete strangers or some combination thereof, it’s the echo we fear. 

A common response to a fear of public speaking is a recommendation that the speaker imagine the audience naked. The point being: when vulnerability is shared, it’s less threatening. Everyone is navigating a private terrain. Everyone is nursing a private doubt or insecurity. The more we understand this, the less fearful we become… right?

So what if we approached the holidays as an opportunity to rewrite the script? What if we agreed, collectively, that life is challenging, that we’re all doing the best we can, that there are no answers, no rights, no certainties, and no guarantees, and that wherever we are in this moment — whether on mountain high or in the basin of a valley — it’s not a determinator of our innate value. 

What if we declared, unanimously, that to be human is a tremendous and sacred gift independent of where we fall on the single/marriage, parent/kidless, established career/searching spectrum?

When we define our and others’ lives by our and their accomplishments (or perceived lack thereof), we rob ourselves and others of the connective tissue that unites us: our humanness.

If there is something to remember this holiday season it is this: love is what we’re made of.

I’m not being pat. Nor am I advocating placing ourselves in abusive or harmful environments in an effort to rise above. I am, however, suggesting that we are far more forceful than we realize and that our intentions bear gravity and weight. We are participants in our interactions. We can set or shift the tone. 

The act of loving begins with curiosity. In a world of “whatcha been up to?” conversation starters, perhaps it’s time to open the discourse, to allow for greater intimacy with ourselves and others by initiating and creating the safe space we ourselves desire. How can we frame the question as to invite a more tender, substantial dialogue?  

There’s nothing more soulful or nourishing than a heartfelt, meaningful exchange. Many of us walk into social gatherings in fear, but we can choose to approach them with love. Love for our inner children aching for attention, love for others who, despite what may seem to be the contrary, are harboring an ache all their own and love for the opportunity to expand itself. 

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