- - Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When I was a kid growing up in Detroit and Boston, there were multiple Christmas celebrations in public school. Everyone participated in the celebrations, including the Jews and the many individuals of Middle Eastern descent.

Christmas carols were sung, presents were exchanged and food was consumed in a partylike atmosphere. There were very few people stoking the fires of sensitivity or trying to make everyone feel different. There’s nothing wrong with diversity, but there is also nothing wrong with unity and enjoying overarching fun and good will. When someone said “Merry Christmas,” it was regarded as a salutation of good will toward everyone, whether they believed in Christ as their savior or not.

By the same token, if someone wished you a happy Hanukkah or a Muslim greeting, and you did not belong to that particular group, certainly no one saw a reason for offense or for ascribing hateful motives to the greeter. I believe most people say “Merry Christmas” because they want to invite others to partake of their joy.

City councils and other governing bodies that are so quick to order the removal of traditional reminders of Christmas — owing to a few vocal citizens taking offense — are often the very same people who support laws like Obamacare, even though that law offends millions of Americans who remain opposed to it. I guarantee you that these politicians cannot see the rank hypocrisy in their actions.


How can reasonable people claim to be so concerned about everyone’s feelings and proceed to ignore the will of the people? The answer is selfishness. I have some experience with this natural human characteristic that tends to be highly destructive. As a youngster, I had a violent temper, which got me into a lot of trouble. One day after much prayer and contemplation, it dawned on me that I was easily angered and offended because I was self-centered. Someone was always in my space or doing something to me. Me and mine — I was always focused on myself. Selfishness is characterized by the attitude “It has to be my way for everyone — not just for me — or I will be offended.” This behavior includes intolerance of anyone or anything that provokes one to take offense.

By the grace of God, I discovered how to remove myself from the center of every equation and look at things from the point of view of others. This made an enormous difference in my life and virtually eliminated anger cultivated by an attitude of perceived injury. If people can learn to look at the big picture when they are greeted by someone wishing them a Merry Christmas or other salutation with respect to a cherished celebration, they will realize that no harm is meant; in fact, just the opposite is being communicated.

I find it fascinating to observe how easily some people can be whipped into a frenzy over nothing by agitators who probably derive great pleasure in seeing how they can play with the emotions of vulnerable individuals, who would not even have thought about being offended if it had not been suggested to them.

The atmosphere of political correctness that permeates our society has an Orwellian quality to it. It’s as though Americans are all essentially automatons who are expected to think, speak and act the same way. George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” describes a society in which anyone who bucks the rules is eliminated and their family and surroundings are investigated for signs of thought contamination.

Unfortunately, such a description is too close to reality for comfort. It seems to me that we have truly lost our focus on important issues and have begun to concentrate on the book cover rather than its content. We have far too many important problems facing not only our nation, but the whole world to be consumed by never-ending nitpicking over language. By making that mistake, we’re totally missing the point.

Whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic or other, let’s enjoy this festive season. Go out of your way to bring good cheer into the life of someone else. Forgive someone against whom you hold a long-standing grudge. Try to look at things from the vantage point of someone with whom you usually disagree. Speak to people you usually ignore.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” it is likely that you will discover that being nice is actually fun and less stressful for everyone. Let’s let those people who get their enjoyment by agitating others find something else to do with their time, while we devote our energies to worthwhile endeavors. Remember, “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” and by the way, Merry Christmas.

Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.