By Bryan Caplan
The official theory of the holidays is that they’re a time for families to have a good time together. Unfortunately, the practice falls far short of the theory. Many people dread the holidays, because they feel obliged to spend a lot of time with people who drive them crazy.
If I were a Hansonian, then, Christmas would be a natural time to say, “Holidays are not about families having a good time together.” But I don’t want to just complain about mankind; I want to show it the light. Here goes: Family relations – holidays included – can be vastly improved at little or no cost using the basics of social intelligence.
My favorite trick: Shift your emphasis from kindness to respect. Unless your family is truly dysfunctional, there’s probably more than enough kindness to go around. The main remaining source of friction is lack of respect – the stubborn refusal to admit that when other people want your opinion, they will ask for it.* Don’t hide behind the kindness of your motives; saying “I’m only trying to help!” doesn’t make your disrespect any less odious. And since people habitually ignore unwanted advice, isn’t it actually kinder as well as more respectful not to give it?
Robin will probably fault me for ignoring the underlying dominance games that people are playing. But I’m not ignoring them; I’m just saying that at least in the modern world, these games are defunct. Let me ridicule them with the help of South Park‘s Underpants Gnomes: “Phase 1: Give unwanted advice on Christmas. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit.” Maybe in a primitive tribe, disrespecting your relatives “for their own good” yields tangible benefits. Maybe. In the modern world, you’re giving up the genuine affection of those around you for the dubious privilege of aggravating them twice a year.
* Coming to this blog counts as asking for my opinion!