For many, if not most, of us the holiday season is a time to celebrate and express joy by giving gifts and going to family get-togethers. This year the season feels especially poignant in light of all the tragedies and hardships people all over the world are experiencing—record-breaking hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires, unrest, saber-rattling and war.
It seems particularly important to me that this year we should more specifically think about gifts like compassion, acceptance, acknowledging a higher power, gratitude and forgiveness. Add these gifts to the list of what we give to each other. These are the presents that can nurture healing in our own lives, our families’ lives, our community and throughout the world. This is not merely some “Kum Ba Ya” hope, but a significant state of mind that can be a force to oppose the troubles around us. And this is particularly important for people engaged in family businesses.
Let me explain. It is not unusual for business and financial differences to disrupt family holiday gatherings. These frictions can be the elephant in the room, stomping around without being acknowledged because family members are determined to “get along” for the holidays.
It’s a good idea to separate business matters from family events—especially parties—so business differences don’t overwhelm family intimacy. It’s also a great opportunity for family members to give each other gifts of compassion and forgiveness. This can dramatically improve the tone of family holiday celebrations. These gifts acknowledge that other members of the family are not perfect. Offering compassion and forgiveness helps us recognize that we, too, are not perfect—we are all human beings, which means we make mistakes. Out of gratitude for blessings bestowed on us, we can forgive members of our family who have hurt us, whether they meant to or not. This promotes healing and greater closeness within the family.
We can also extend our gratitude by reaching out to those less fortunate than us by offering that same set of gifts. Families who unite around these gifts of gratitude, compassion and forgiveness forge a strong sense of closeness and resiliency. The family as a business can stand together to support a charity, an event, a special need.
The Sweeney family (not their real name) comes to mind. They provide gifts and sponsor activities at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. Their generosity makes the holidays happier for the children and their families and brings the Sweeney family together as they recognize their own blessings in life.
So how can you help generate these good feelings? Can people simply “make” themselves more compassionate, more forgiving, more accepting or grateful? That’s a lot to ask, since we already said that people aren’t perfect.
I would suggest this: Give yourself a gift first. Give yourself moments of vulnerability.
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Does that sound strange, maybe even risky? Most people think that being vulnerable with someone—being “open”—can leave you open to being shamed, judged or taken advantage of. I contend that when someone is vulnerable and open with me, they are being strong and honest. I trust them. And that’s why I suggest that we each try to be a bit more vulnerable with each other as we enjoy the holiday season. When we are vulnerable, even for just a moment in a specific situation, we are showing that we trust the other person to be fair and open with us. It’s a powerful message that often helps the other person be honest in return. The goodness spirals: vulnerability produces trust, which encourages vulnerability in an ever-stronger relationship between two people.
Give yourself permission to be vulnerable with each other. Make it a priority this holiday season to create an experience where your family reaches out to your friends and your community with gifts of kindness, care and compassion. Your own acceptance and recognition are often what many people need in their lives.
Gather your family together. Plan activities that bring healing to your community, your family and the world at large. There are many, many opportunities to volunteer and bring joy to others. If you have a family foundation, have everyone discuss the family’s values on service and philanthropy. Then create a plan on how you can bring kindness, care and respect to people around you—and beyond, to people you don’t know.
Let your holiday season, whatever your faith, truly reflect the carol that proclaims a universal hope: “Joy to the world!”
Tom Hubler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Hubler for Business Families, a family business consulting firm.