Question: Our work neighbour is obsessed with Australia Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Anzac Day, Halloween and Christmas. They try to involve the whole office in holiday celebrations including dress-ups, decorations, songs and games.
I admire their enthusiasm, but they won't take no for an answer. It gets a bit much and if someone says they don't want to be involved, this person gets offended.
They have started their Christmas observance already (we received this email in mid-November), and some of the "celebration" ideas are strange even by their standards. What can we do without hurting their feelings?
Answer: Back in the 17th century, Miguel de Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote “de todos ha de haber en el mundo”. It was translated to “in the world there must surely be of all sorts” and is considered the original source of the modern expression “it takes all sorts (to make a world)”.
Diversity is a hugely overused (and sometimes incomprehensibly employed) word these days, but in the middle of it is a very good idea. It goes something like: lots of different people with different ideas, backgrounds, preferences and perspectives is better than one group of people with the same ideas and broadly same worldview doing the same thing over again.
This goes for “big ticket” social things such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality and class, but also for the stuff on the diversity undercard: we need extroverts and introverts and people in the middle, we need people who stick strictly to numbers and people who follow their instincts and people who do both. We need optimists and pessimists and hope centrists.
When we talk about all types, I’d say “well, not all all”, And into that exception bin I’d throw your colleague.
Do we need people who deck the halls of an insurance company in boughs of holly in October and demand everyone begin wearing reindeer antlers the day after the Melbourne Cup and people who don’t do that*?
No. We just need the latter.
Some might laugh off what you’ve described as a bit of eccentric fun. They are people who have never experienced the oppressive level of contrived zaniness that you have. As I’ve said before on these pages, in reality very few people can tolerate, let alone appreciate, opt-out-at-your-peril pageantry of this magnitude.
In almost every other situation, I would say you’d be right to worry about your co-worker’s feelings. I would say that finding the balance between firmness and compassion will be tricky. In this case, I say stuff it: be blunt. And be blunt in numbers.
The only way to end this crepe-paper-and-felt tyranny is arm in arm with your fellow, non-wacky team members.
* These are examples used for rhetorical purposes only and bear no relation to what the reader’s colleague may have suggested.
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