A slightly better world

SKIP MENDLER
Posted 12/14/16

When we lived in Pittsburgh some 25 years ago, I stood in for St. Nicholas at a couple of corporate Christmas parties. Fake-bearded and properly pillowed (I was thinner then, and clean-shaven), …

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A slightly better world

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When we lived in Pittsburgh some 25 years ago, I stood in for St. Nicholas at a couple of corporate Christmas parties. Fake-bearded and properly pillowed (I was thinner then, and clean-shaven), I’d wander from table to table, inviting folks to share their holiday wishes. Rather than extravagant desires for Porsches and diamonds, I was gratified—and a little surprised, frankly—to hear folks express instead a general sense of contentment, and gratitude for their health, their families and their friends.

I’d had some training from a temp agency that provided Santas to the various department stores around town. (They called their training program the “University of Santa Claus.”) There were a few basic rules, simple enough when you hear them, but not necessarily what you might think of yourself. I’ll share some of them here for any of you who might find yourselves doing Santa duty this year:

Keep a twinkle in your eye at all times.

Never let loose with a big “HO, HO, HO!!”—you might startle or even terrify a small child. Restrained chuckles will work just fine.

If a child does start crying, sympathize with them and gently return them to their adult. Your attempts to make them stop will usually just make matters worse. You’re bigger than life, after all, and maybe a little intimidating, despite your twinkle. Keeping your good cheer about you, tell the adult the child may return ”whenever they’re ready.”

Never ask about a child’s parents—after all, you don’t know what their situation is.

Always refer to yourself as “Santa,” not “I” or “me.” For example, “Come talk to Santa!” or “What would you like to ask Santa today?”

And most importantly: NEVER promise ANYTHING: the best response is some variation on “Hmmm. Santa will see what he can do.”

So what would I say if Santa aimed his twinkly gaze at me and asked, “So, Skip, come tell Santa what you’d like this year”?

All I want for Christmas…? Well, I can’t say I’m content, exactly, though I am certainly grateful for the many blessings I’ve had in my life so far. There’s just one thing I’d wish for:

A slightly better world.

Liberals are sometimes criticized for harboring utopian beliefs in the “perfectibility” of humankind. It’s a theological and philosophical debate that goes all the way back to ancient Greece, and I’m certainly not going to try to rehash it all here. But our imperfectibility, I’d argue, while pretty obvious, is also no excuse for not trying to make things better—even if only slightly.

Let there be a slightly better world…

where it isn’t quite so easy to cause harm

where people are a little less reckless with themselves and each other

where facts have a bit more power than demagogues

where jerks don’t get rewarded just for being jerks

where simple kindness is the default choice

where it’s harder to make profit from war

where we have learned the meaning of “enough” and “too much”

where love is always natural and hate is always a disease

where we better understand the actual costs of things

where the laughter of children outweighs any item on any balance sheet

I hope that’s not too much to ask for—oh yes, I know: Santa will see what he can do.

Happy Holidays to you, whatever your path, and best of luck to us all in 2017.

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