Get Over Yourself
I'm not greeting the new year with resolutions; I'm greeting it with a wish: I want you to get over yourself. Scratch that: I want you to give yourself permission to get over yourself. To put your defensiveness, anxiety, and hesitation aside, so you can engage more honestly and productively with the world around you, and we can all be happier. Need illustrative examples? No problem -- I've been hoarding them.
If you get called on saying something offensive, intentionally or not, try not to get defensive -- unless you have committed to an ignorance compact, and sworn not to learn anything new, ever. This comes up most often in my world when people toss around the word "retarded." My preferred counter is prickly humor rather than preaching, but some folks still launch a justification campaign, with extended explanations as to how the dictionary defines "retarded" as "slow" and in that context their usage is not actually incorrect. Yeah. That doesn't work if you're complaining that you "feel retarded" because you can't figure out your new TV remote. How about you get over yourself and just say, "Oh. I understand" and we all move on because we both know you didn't mean any harm?
If people offer up information to you, solicited or un-, try to be gracious. The only person who will sing your praises for already knowing something is your mother. I recently read a post by a woman whose reaction to witnessing a child with autism have a public meltdown was to cry and wish there wasn't any autism in the world. Which is a tender-hearted if not terribly informed or helpful reaction, given the pride with which adult autistics self-identify, and considering that a single offer of help might have tempered the child's family's crisis. I'm not going to link to the blogger, because she found the more neutral comment-version of what I've written in this paragraph upsetting, protested that she didn't need advice because she'd had "classes in autism," and deleted the comment thread -- and I don't want to distress her further. But I hope she can get over herself eventually, and turn her positive instincts into useful actions. Which brings us to the next example:
If you see someone who looks like they are in trouble or needs help, offer assistance in a straightforward and non-self-congratulatory way. Listen if they tell you what they need and don't take it personally if they say no or brush you off. Don't let fear of offending someone keep you on the Sidelines of Uselessness! But you should also stay aware of creeping self-righteousness. Another recent non-linkable read came from a blogger who saw what she described as a homeless person on a street corner holding a "will work for food" sign. The writer went into a nearby store, bought a sandwich and tried to give it to the man -- and was incensed when they man said he didn't like turkey, and could he please have another kind of meat. She stomped off, insisting to herself that he should have been grateful for her largesse. Should he? I'm of the opinion that, if she was committed to the path she'd initiated, then she should have either asked what he wanted to eat before she went into the store, or gotten him the sandwich he wanted after he declined her choice. If you genuinely want to help someone, then you need to get over yourself, think through your impulses, and remember that the other person is the one in need.
If you meet someone so entirely unlike yourself that it makes you nervous, convince yourself to engage anyhow. Ask questions. Listen to them, to what they're saying, and how it illuminates their perspective rather than how it reflects back to your experience. You'll learn -- about them, yes, but also how to socialize with them so you're both more comfortable. Proactive engagement is especially important if the differences are based on appearance or behavior, because obviously different folks tend to be socially isolated. If, like my son Leo, who has intense autism, the new person appears to be not much for conversation, greet them anyhow -- then tell them you're going to ask the person accompanying them for hanging-out tips. We just returned from a road trip to spend the holidays with extended family, and it was a delight, because my family and my husband's family have made an effort to learn that Leo likes wrestling, tickling, hugs, hiking, swimming, iPads, puzzles, (and, OK, donuts and french fries). The people who love Leo have gotten over themselves, over worries that they're going to do hanging out with Leo "wrong," and our time together is the richer for it.
I could indefinitely list get-over-yourselfs, but I'll end with this one: Did you mean to send out holiday cards but didn't get them out on time? Are you worried about the wrath of snippy etiquette jockeys? So what! Send your cards out anyhow, at a realistic pace. Your important people care more about hearing from you, and keeping your stress levels manageable, than they do about seasonality -- trust me. At its root, getting over yourself is about putting kindness first; towards others, yes, but also towards yourself.