A Christmas Wish

Family Stone

The Family Stone: A tale of Christmas Dysfunctionality

Everybody thinks they are right.  If you asked Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Robert Mugabe about their records they would explain to you why they were right and what they did was right and there is a good chance that after an hour with any of them you would begin to accept that they had a valid position.

Everybody thinks they are right.

Christmas is time for families.  If anyone knows how to push all your emotional trigger buttons it is your close family.  This makes Christmas a time of stress and tension for many.  Old arguments bubble to the surface.  Kind words and gestures are over-analysed and misinterpreted and rejected.

If you have stress in your relationships here is some sage advice from John Greenleaf Whittier.  Just forgive. Whittier is one of the “Fireside Poets” and born this day in 1807.  I like to think of the Fireside poets in terms of life before TV, when you might spend a cold winters evening by the fire sharing poetry and stories.  Time spent with family and friends, like Christmas.

Forgiveness is hard, because if you mean it then it must be unconditional.  You are not offering an olive branch to begin peace talks.  You are giving it away, opening your own heart with no expectation of any reciprocal action on the other side.  That is real forgiveness.


Forgiveness; by John Greenleaf Whittier

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
so, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
one summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial-place;
where, pondering how all human love and hate
find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
and cold hands folded over a still heart,
pass the green threshold of our common grave,
whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
awed for myself, and pitying my race,
our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

Don’t be disgusting.

One of the key drivers at play in retail situations is disgust.  If you want to sell your product must look perfect, but so should the shelf and the store.

Queen Elizabeth II at the English Market in Cork

Queen Elizabeth II at the English Market in Cork

Disgust is one of the 6 Universal Emotions that are rooted in psychological research (ref; Paul Ekman & Wallace Friesen).

Disgust is a very important emotion that protects us from harm.  Imagine that you leave the office and are walking home when you come across a dead rat in the street.  Do you pick it up and bring it home for dinner?  The very thought is disgusting.

It takes a great deal of deprivation to overcome disgust.  You may be able to imagine a situation where you are starving to death and that dead rat actually seems appetising, but the situation would need to be dire indeed.

What you may not realise is that disgust is operating in the background all the time, affecting your purchasing decisions.  When we go shopping we are driven by this primitive emotion to seek perfection in what we buy.

100,000 years ago, when hominids wandered the forests in search of food the emotion of disgust protected their health.  If you see a piece of fruit that has already been chewed it looks disgusting.  This is an important survival mechanism.  Humans can contract nasty diseases from the bodily fluids of other animals.

People with a genetic disposition to be disgusted by tainted food had a higher survival rate than those with a low disgust threshold.  As a result a sense of disgust became encoded into the Genome of humans.

Our sense of disgust also affects the mating decisions we make.  We are disgusted by pustules, sores, rashes etc on human skin.  All of these are potential signs of diseases such as measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, plague etc.  Those who were fussiest about physical perfection lived longer and had more babies.  Theirs were the winning genes, the genes of disgust.

In the modern world when we go shopping we want to buy things that are not tainted.  We like to go into stores that are clean and ordered, not ones that look like a herd of cattle just passed through.  So retailers must make their stores look pristine to attract shoppers.

Once inside we want to select products that look untouched by others.  We dislike clothes rails that look like someone has been pulling at them.  We like to pick products from shelves that are full to the brim, so we get the “freshest” and “ripest” food.

We avoid the dented tin, the one with the torn paper, the bag of chips that fell on the floor, the bread loaf that looks like someone squeezed it, bruised fruit, wilted salad and wrinkled apples.

It is a huge job for the retailer to keep a display in pristine condition.  As soon as a display looks untidy sales fall.