The holidays are here. Traditionally, they’re a special time when we return home bearing gift baskets full of resentments. We gather around the dinner table, uncork a few bottles of family grievances and argue with inebriated relatives over a passive-aggressive comment made 17 years ago. However, in the last few years, the social media-fueled culture wars have deepened our country’s rifts into trenches and turned every day into an endless argument with the drunk uncle who “does his own research.”
This holiday season, let’s give the gift of shutting the hell up.
Roughly 52 percent of New Yorkers are transplants, either out of state or immigrants. This means many of us will return to places that believe our pizza is made with not enough ranch dressing and way too much communism. I say, let them have it. Treat the dinner table like a subway car: When someone starts acting unhinged, avoid eye contact, look down and pass the potatoes. This holiday season, give the gift of selective hearing.
We deserve a break. Living in New York City is one long fight as it is. We argue with friends over the best slice, landlords over repairs, neighbors over loud music, we elbow passengers for space on the train and we’re constantly at war with rat sized roaches and cat sized rats. We even argue with other New Yorkers about New York.
The other day I had coffee with a friend and mentioned it was my five year anniversary of moving to New York City. Naturally, he congratulated The City on being perfect. I told him I loved it here, but wished it was easier to get to nature. Without skipping a beat he says, “Central Park is like nature! If you stand in the right spot you can’t even see the skyscrapers.” While influencer photo shoots and abandoned Citi bikes do remind me of the pristine wonders of Glacier National Park, I wasn’t convinced. But to save myself from his usual “how could you live anywhere else” diatribe, I acted like he said nothing. We sat in silence for a minute and it felt like freedom. No argument. No hot take. No link sent to prove me wrong. It was just good old-fashioned quiet time. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of a truce.
I’m not oblivious to the fractured state of the republic. I’ve spent the last 20 years touring through it as a standup comic. One of the skills you learn early on is how to read a room. And not just during shows. I’ve spoken to thousands of people after shows in towns big and small and I’ve learned to pick my battles. As an Arab immigrant, I’ve deflected many questions, comments and insults about my beliefs. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I’ve gotten flak for that. I currently live in New York so now I’m apparently a bi-coastal elitist. These days the quips feel more like interrogations, but my reaction is unchanged. I make a quick self deprecating joke and keep it moving. It disarms them. It’s a small victory, because in many parts of the country, that’s the only way they’ll be unarmed. I’m not going to win the culture war at the bar of a comedy club and you’re not going to win it in Aunt Susan’s den. This holiday season, give the gift of taking the high road.
The comedian in me wants to win over the room and the immigrant in me wants to assimilate. When you lead with that, you will, for the most part find people to be kind and welcoming. When I’m in the South, I don’t waste my time defending New York. I shrug off their made up crime statistics and say point me to the best brisket and ribs. You know what they hear? Someone who is happy to be in Birmingham. This holiday season, give the gift of shared interests.
On the other side of this holiday another divisive election looms. While I have plenty of strong beliefs and criticisms, I’m also leaving room for pie. Life is serious business, but even the newspaper makes space for Sudoku. It shouldn’t feel like a radical proposal to suggest seeing beyond the bubbles and echo chambers, beyond right and left and winning and losing. Even if its just for ourselves, let’s give the gift of seeing this country for more than the sum of its parts and spend the holidays just being Americans.