This is one of my favorite holiday movies--I'm sure it makes many peoples' lists. I'm thinking particularly about it this year since so much of the film is about learning to accept someone who is not like you. The first time I saw the movie, I'm certain I identified much more with Neil (Steve Martin's character) than Del (John Candy). However, as I've aged, and matured, I think the tables are turned. Sure, people can still irritate the you-know-what out of me, but I'm much more sympathetic to Del's dilemma of finding a place where he fits in. Neil's annoyance, cruelty and blatant distaste seem more obnoxious each time I watch the film. This parallels the shift in my thinking, and the emphasis in my work over the past several years, regarding diversity and inclusion.
Seeing others as being just as valuable and worthy as yourself (and those like you) is not an easy mindset shift because generally we are raised in insular environments. Our experience of difference often comes only in the form of entertainment, sports viewing, or news reporting. As such, we get a skewed vision of what others are like since we only see them as performers, athletes or criminals.
Most of us were also raised to believe in the Myth of Meritocracy. It goes something like this: If you work hard, you will succeed. You will get what you deserve so long as you put in the effort. People, especially those with privilege, love the Myth because it places prosperity firmly in their realm of control. Here's the problem: It isn't true. For anyone who has ever spent any time in poor environments, the old "bootstrap" myth is a pile of bull. Everyone has some story of a distant acquaintance who managed to scratch their way out of poverty, or homelessness, or an abusive environment. But can intelligent people really fool themselves into thinking this is the norm? Well, yes--I see it all the time.
Neil, the advertising executive who is stuck with Del, the shower ring salesman, definitely buys into his Myth of Meritocracy. If only everyone (including Del) were as well-dressed, as proper, as fastidious and as upper-middle class as he, the world would be a better place. Thus, he reviles Del's loud banter, his beefiness, his tacky clothes, his smelly feet and his inexplicable cheery disposition. Neil's an uptight a-hole. And you know what, so many of us are too. We stereotype, assume, pontificate, and--in some cases--allow our vitriol to head into the territory of slurs (racial, ethnic, sexual, socio-economic, you name it).
Let's make a pact. For Thanksgiving, and the Holiday Season, let's all try to be more like Del. Cheerful, optimistic, loving and accepting. We'll all feel better for it, and so will those with whom we come into contact. A few suggestions:
- Take a media fast (too much emphasis on separation and conflict)
- Buy less, donate more
- Spend time with elders, even if their attitudes or habits sometimes annoy you
- Smile at every cashier and server, treat them with respect and politeness
- Write someone you love a letter of appreciation. Tell them what you love about them. It will be a greater gift than anything you buy.
Let's spend the holidays being tolerant and being the "real deal"--
Artfully and gratefully yours,