Journalist Julia Ioffe says she’s not trying to be a Scrooge, she just wishes people would be a bit more thoughtful and not wish everyone a “Merry Christmas” without knowing if they actually celebrate Christmas. That kind of sensitivity to others’ perspectives is exactly what she was lacking six weeks ago when she claimed Trump had radicalized more people than ISIS. I guess it’s easier to ask for others to be kind than to be kind.
In her piece for the Washington Post, Ioffe writes that other people’s good cheer about the holiday makes her feel lonely and isolated:
I like good cheer. But please do not wish me “Merry Christmas.” It’s wonderful if you celebrate it, but I don’t — and I don’t feel like explaining that to you. It’s lonely to be reminded a thousand times every winter that the dominant American cultural event occurs without me…
Despite the movies and the shopping, despite the Germanic decor, Christmas is still, at its core and by design, about the birth of Christ, a point that seems bizarre to argue. Just look at all those nativity scenes! And we don’t observe the holiday on just any day. Dec. 25 has Christian significance. Whenever I hear the name, I hear the “Christ” in it. To me, it’s strange that many of its celebrants do not…
To say it’s off-putting to be wished a merry holiday you don’t celebrate — like someone randomly wishing you a happy birthday when the actual date is months away — is not to say you hate Christmas. It is simply to say that, to me, Julia Ioffe, it is alienating and weird, even though I know that is not intended. I respond: “Thanks. You, too.” But that feels alienating and weird, too, because now I’m pretending to celebrate Christmas.
The idea that the dominant culture is intensely, almost religiously focused on a point of view that isn’t universally shared is actually a feeling to which many conservative Americans can relate. It’s not uncommon to meet people for the first time and have them simply assume you share their left-wing politics on one issue or another. At least Christmas only dominates the world for a month or so. That’s not the case with the dominant progressive culture in movies, television, and yes the news media. Turn on the Oscars, or the Emms, or the MTV awards and you’ll discover there’s almost no one who shares your viewpoint. Instead, there’s hostility toward your views. The pages of the NY Times and Washington Post aren’t much better. The Post’s right-wing columnist is farther to the left than most left-wing columnists. So the sense of cultural isolation I, and I suspect many others, can understand and sympathize with. Ioffe ends with a call for a kinder approach.
My wish, this holiday season, is for people not to make assumptions about others, to put themselves in others’ shoes, to respect others as they wish to be respected, to respond with kindness even when they disagree, to live and let live. I heard about a guy who used to say all that stuff, and apparently his birthday is coming up. Why not honor him that way?
That plea is almost convincing. I say almost because just a few weeks ago this same author was saying this on national television:
“ISIS had like 10,000 members. I think the president has far more supporters who espouse an equally hateful ideology,” she said at the end of October. Ioffe later apologized, saying she shouldn’t have used such “hyperbole” on the air. But watching, you get the impression her apology had more to do with saving her own career as a commentator than any real generosity of spirit.
What do you say to someone who, on the one hand, compares people she disagrees with to savages who behead their enemies and, on the other hand, bemoans the lack of human kindness from people who are being mildly insensitive but in a genuine spirit of goodwill? What do you say to someone who wishes others would tiptoe around her views to protect her feelings while she stomps around like bigfoot on television comparing 45% of the country to the most gruesome death cult since the Thugees. I can think of all sorts of things I’d be tempted to say to such a person, none of it very nice. So, under the circumstances, consider this an act of grace: Merry Christmas, Julia Ioffe, and have a happy New Year.