Where does Civility go During the Holidays?

be excellentWhat is it about the “Holiday Season” that causes normal, nice & kind people to abandon that social construct we call civility? We all crave structure and stability. Our society functions because we agree to behave in certain ways.

Stop signs. Orderly queues at the movies and whilst shopping. Paying taxes.

So what gives? Why is it so freaking difficult to maintain a civil pose at this time of year?

I heard two stories recently that made me shake my head. One for all the right reasons and one for all the wrong. The right reason: A couple moved into a house and found $23,000 that the previous owners FORGOT to take with them (Yes, we’d all like to be able to forget 23 large). They tracked down the owners and got their cash back to them.) Would you have given the money back? Why not?

The other story is just another holiday horror story. It’s not as bad as the woman who pepper-sprayed shoppers to get at the discount Xboxes on Black Friday but this incident happened to a friend of mine. It seems that the store my friend manages had the audacity to run out of GoPro helmet mounted video cameras (so your teen snowboarder can livestream or YouTube post his half-pipe adventures). The “customer” decided that the 16 year old trying to help her had purposefully ruined her Christmas. My friend had to escort (somewhat forcefully) an adult woman throwing a temper tantrum from her store.

Having done my time in retail, I’ve had to do the same. “Uh, sir, I don’t think we have anything here for you. Seriously. We don’t.” Of course, what one truly wants to say is, “Listen, you moron, I’d love to sell you one. That’s how I make my living. But since you are the world’s biggest asshat, just get the F— out of our store!!! Go on!! Git!! Shoo!!

Starting around mid-November, we all see it. No one waves anyone into traffic. A little old lady wrestles with her change purse. This causes people in line to start pushing, as if standing so close to me we could have sex if we were naked will help you check-out faster. At TJ Maxx, one hears angry growls behind you because you dare to take a moment and say thank-you to the cashier.

Enough of my stories. You have your own. In some, you are the victim and in some you are the perpetrator. I’d like to hear your story in the comments section. The big question is “What in the Dickens is going on here?”

We have met the enemy and he is us. We have created a society that mandates bigger better more. The holidays NEED to be perfect. The kids NEED the perfect gift. The world revolves around me and mine.

Is altruism dead? No, it’s stronger than ever. Sadly, at the other end of life’s bell curve, me-ism is also stronger than ever. Two factors are in play. One is our economy. We are all terrified for our money and our jobs. We work too much, commute too far and have far too little time for that which matters. Stress? Heck yeah, that’s stress.

The other factor is the Web. The Internet has created a sub-culture where people remain locked in their teen-age personal fable. Anything goes in the race to immediately satisfy one’s needs & desires, Facebook updates and Foursquare check-ins.

Let’s summarize…

It is tough out there for everyone. You may have waited at a light for seven minutes trying to make a left turn (and as a result, you just missed out on the very last Tickle Me Teddy Ruxpin at the mall) but that kid behind the register has been standing there for 7 hours to make college tuition so she doesn’t have to stand there for the next 37 years.

Be nice. Both of you. Say please. Thank-you. You’re welcome. Let the little old lady go first. If you’re the little old lady, don’t act so entitled.      It’s rough out there, people, so be good to each other. Bill and Ted said it first. They said it best. Be excellent to each other.
     May your dreidel land on gimel and all your holidays be bright.


This post originally appeared here on Dec. 21, 2011.


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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  1. Larry says:

    I find that, in general, people are more pleasant this time of year. Of course, I rarely am at the stores shopping so maybe this is why our experiences are different.
    P.S. I’m pretty sure I would have given back the money.

  2. I wish I could agree, Larry. But maybe I spent too much of my twenties working in retail. It’s as if the bell curve of behavior is radically altered. The two ends, utter asshat-ery and total lovingkindess, dominate, and the midrange all but evaporates.

This is what I think...