Happy New Year!
Sorry it has been a bit quiet around here for a while – I’ll try to rectify that, starting with this…
One of my favourite things about Christmas is getting real live post – letters with hand-written envelopes and Christmassy stamps dropping through the letterbox, bringing messages from friends and family far and near. I love it.
I especially love reading what have become known as the ’round robins’ (despite the fact that they are not ’round robins’ in the official sense at all – they are not circulated round a group with each person adding their comments as it goes along, but that’s just me being pedantic!) – the Christmas letters summarising, in anything from a single page to a full-colour booklet, the ups and downs of life in the last year.
Yet every Christmas I hear commentators on TV and radio bemoaning these letters and begging their friends to desist from writing them. The complaint is that these letters over-inflate the achievements of the family in question and underplay, omit or outright lie about the challenges.
This kind of reaction, though, tells me far more about the reactor than the friends from whom he or she has received the letter. Take this, for example, from an article in the BBC News Magazine a few years ago:
Sprinkled with Latin accomplishments of the child you’ve never met, the pay rise of the husband you never liked and the excruciating detail of the family’s cruise holiday you care nothing for, the Christmas newsletter is for many recipients something to endure rather than enjoy.
Why would you not be interested in such news from people you count as friends? I love seeing the pictures of and hearing tales about the children of friends too far away for me to see regularly (if ever). I’m pleased to hear of the family’s business successes, and if their description of their holiday is too long or un-engaging, I can simply skip past it and no-one will ever know! A true friend is interested in the minutiae of his or her friends’ lives, rejoices with them in the good times and mourns with them in the bad.
I am also blessed with the kind of friends who are not afraid to share the bad, and who don’t over-inflate the good. They are honest enough to say ‘this was a tough year for us in these areas’, and ‘x is enjoying her dance class’ without either moaning or bragging. If your friends need to paint an unrealistically rosy or glossy picture, that suggests both that they feel insecure about themselves and the truth of their lives and that you are not a safe place where they can be honest and vulnerable.
Of course, this is painting and unrealistically rosy picture of me, too. The biggest fault I see in myself when reading these letters is my critical eye towards their grammar and spelling. (This is particularly an issue in some of the hand-written notes my parents receive, and is rare in the carefully spell-checked typed versions which I usually get.) I judge the writers on their errors, and have to remind myself to look past that to the content and to the fact that they have taken the time and effort to write to mum and dad when it is obviously not something that comes naturally to them. My criticism is an indictment of me, not them.
And it is not just at Christmas. I’ve heard people level the same criticisms at Facebook, too – that it is so fake, that they are so sick of seeing everyone’s overly-cheerful status updates and the pictures of their amazing holidays… What this tells me about the moaners is that they are un-generous, nosy (otherwise why are they using Facebook in the first place? There’s no law that says you have to look at it every day!), and insecure.
If hearing of other people’s triumphs and celebrations annoys and upsets you, that suggests not that there is something wrong with their lives, but that you are dissatisfied with yours. When I felt heavy-hearted about my friends’ sun-soaked holiday pictures last summer it was because I felt left out and dissatisfied with the financial situation I was in which meant I wasn’t able to go abroad and sit on a beach for a fortnight. The solution was not to shun Facebook or criticise my friends, but to count my blessings, focus on what I did have, and what amazing opportunities and experiences I’ve had in the past, that some other friends will never have. The problem was not them, it was me.
As with my Christmas letters, my Facebook feed is a place where my friends are able to share the challenges as well as the victories in their lives. It is a place where people find support and encouragement when they’re feeling low, as well as joy and celebration of their achievements and milestones.
Thank you, my friends, for willing to be real on Facebook and in your Christmas letters. I love hearing from you, and I promise to overlook any typos or grammatical errors (as I hope you’ll overlook any in this!). I don’t take lightly the implicit trust you put in me when you bare the raw places of your heart, and I am grateful that you create a safe place for me to do the same.
Whatever 2014 brings to you, I look forward to sharing its highs and lows with you. Happy New Year!
Picture Credit: swamibu/5201483221/”>Round Robin by swamibu (Creative Commons)