Best gift, ever

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If it could only happen, this year’s top gift might be a return to the way things used to be.

That’s the sense one gets from talking to counselor and River Reporter columnist Kim Olver. That this raw longing for pre-COVID holidays, pre-COVID socializing, pre-COVID life underlies much of the rage people and families are dealing with now.

There’s no question that the pandemic has changed celebrations.

Last year, holidays were “typically smaller and people connected over Zoom,” Olver said. Some chose to disregard COVID precautions and held a normal holiday gathering. Some did nothing.

“It depends on how safe people felt,” she said. “Some people declined to have others over. There was anger and frustration.”

What will happen this year? “It’s so varied,” she said. “I imagine the same will be true this year. People are weary of the pandemic and they want it to be over.”

Which leads to the thorny subject of beliefs.

We surround ourselves with information with which we’re comfortable, and the tendency to accept something that supports your beliefs is human nature. “Suspend judgment” of others, she said. Sometimes it’s not possible to convince another that what you believe is right. Or for them to change your mind.

“Masking, social distancing, whatever people decide to do, they need to take responsibility for their own health,” Olver said. “Know the risks and make decisions based on those risks. Don’t judge.”

Judgment vaccine

Being able to hold off on judging others is a kind of inoculation against rage, against division. It goes a long way toward healing rifts.

“Think about perceptions,” said Olver. “They’re individual. They’re based on your five senses.”

Knowledge comes from the information our senses give us. “You will have completely different opinions based on the knowledge you have.”

Experiences differ too. Just because you went through an experience doesn’t mean others did. And even people who shared an experience come out of it differently, because of their previous experiences or because of their differing knowledge.

“People have such faith around what they believe, around what they know,” Olver said.

Not passing judgment means taking a step back and remembering that this other person has different experiences and different knowledge.

Choice v. safety

Then there are values. Some people focus on the right to choose, others see the right to safety. Each group believes that their preference is correct. “There may be more than one right,” Olver said. When you start pushing your preference, “people turn away from you.”

What can be done? “Stay open,” she said, “to the possibility that they may be right.”

Taking responsibility

As a specialist in choice theory and reality therapy, Olver sees the ability to choose and to accept others’ choices as key in interactions. But that also means that people should take responsibility for their choices and what happens afterward.

“What is the reality?” she asked. “Not everyone is vaccinated, not everyone will wear a mask.” At the same time, a business can choose to not allow unvaccinated people in.

When it comes to the holidays, “there is no fighting reality.” People will make the choices that are best for them. We have to accept that.

“The person who is lonely might feel hurt,” if relatives prefer not to visit. “Don’t try to change their minds,” she said. “People are not making decisions lightly.”

Getting back to normal

“We want everyone to think like we do,” Olver said, “because then we can get back to normal.”

Fear lies underneath the rage and the hurt. Fear that things will never be “normal” again.

We get angry, she said, at the people who behave stupidly—and remember, they are defining stupid differently.

Can we get past those barriers?

It’s not hard, and yet it might be the hardest thing to do.

“If you truly listen, they might listen to you,” she said. “It’s not an easy path to walk, but it’s the path that brings the most peace.”

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