Happy Midwinter Solstice Festival
Posted November 27, 2011on:
I was just involved in a rather long-drawn-out Twitter exchange with Laura Gilman (@LAGilman) on the subject of, of all things, holiday greetings. Not because I think either of us is particularly uncivil, but because we seemed to be talking at cross-purposes about what civility is. And because Twitter limits us to a mere 140 characters so it’s hard to get your point across.
The question as I understood it was what is a proper greeting for this season, between two strangers. The reason I understood it this way is because two acquaintances presumably already know each other’s holiday preferences (or can at least reliably infer them) and should already know how to greet the other. In this case I think both she and I would agree that the correct thing to do when Marc meets his acquaintance Laura is to greet her with a greeting appropriate to her holiday preferences and not his own, and she would do likewise. So for non-strangers this is a non-issue.
The problem comes when Marc and Laura don’t know each other. Two strangers meeting on a street corner have far less to go on, which complicates matters.
There is a simple way out of this, of course, simply have both players use generic salutations. “Happy Holidays.” “Season’s Greetings.” These have the advantages of being abstract and generic. They also have the disadvantages of being abstract and generic. There are places and times when abstract and generic is good, but two strangers on a street corner isn’t one of them. People are not abstract. Neither Laura nor Marc is generic (at least I hope they aren’t). These sorts of greetings are perfectly fine when being used by abstract persons to address abstract persons. For businesses and their target audiences, they’re fine. “Happy Holidays, all of you out there who occasionally buy the product(s) that we over here collectively make and market.” Yay, I guess. “Seasons Greetings from us in England to all of our cousins in America” is also okay.
Would I want to here these greetings from a person? Not a bit of it, any more than I’d want someone to keep me company as I recuperated in a hospital, simply because he felt it was his duty. I’d rather it was friend come to chat, or even an enemy come to gloat. Any level of human connection is preferable. Otherwise, it’s like ‘The people of the universe who are not in hospital, in the person of myself, sympathize with the people of the universe who are in hospital, as epitomized in yourself.’ Gee, cheer me up, why don’t you? What does ‘sympathize’ even mean in that context?
Real people start with the assumption that others are like themselves, otherwise there would be no point in trying to communicate at all. Real people have real relationships, even if they’re no more significant than crossing paths on a street corner. So when Marc meets Laura, about whom he knows little beyond the surface details, but whom he assumes to be like him, what salutation should he use? There’s only one he, as a real person, can use.