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Taran March @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

A Quality Solution for Holiday Angst

There’s no need to grin and bear it over the punchbowl

Published: Tuesday, December 24, 2019 - 12:02

’Tis that time of year, when the elves at QD set down their chisels, hammers, and stone slates for a week. We’ll be grinning in sweaters and clutching beverages somewhere, like the rest of you. Then we’ll be back, bright and early at the crack of January, to begin another year of reporting on all things quality. And all that sounds fine, but somehow I’m not feeling it. At the moment I’m having myself an unsettled little Christmas.

Being of relatively sound mind and with a bent toward practical action, I decided to treat this distress like any other work problem. So I made a cup of tea, sat down at the computer, and stared out the window while the tea wreathed steam beside me. Ready, set, think. After a bit I realized the unease wasn’t moving from the inside out but rather from the outside in. Usually it’s the other way around. I’m my own worst enemy in most cases but can generally course-correct without much fuss. In this case, however, I was still lost at sea.

Maybe a few 5 Whys were in order? Certainly they couldn’t hurt:
If it’s not you, then why aren’t you feeling it?
Because the atmosphere of the country seems fractured, glum, and uneasy.

Why does the country seem fractured, glum, and uneasy?
Because we just weathered a major political drama, and there’s more to come.

Why did you just weather a major political drama?
Because the country is polarized.

Why is the country polarized?
Because we can’t seem to see, much less accept, any legitimacy on either side of the polarity.

Why can’t you see, much less accept, any legitimacy?
Because we don’t want to? Because we don’t know how to? Because we’re too busy with our chisels and hammers and stone slates?

That’s the thing I find problematic with 5 Whys: I can never tell when I’ve reached the root cause and end up throwing queries at it and myself. Presumably the process is easier when you’re tracking down a maintenance issue. However, I felt that I’d at least come close to touching the unquiet nerve that was hijacking my holiday mood.

OK, root cause identified, tea no longer wreathing. Now how to tackle the problem? Especially since it’s a we problem and not an I problem? I know what I’d like to do: Not face it. That would be easy enough to accomplish this time of year. There are presents to wrap, post office lines to wait in, invitations to sidestep. There’s always baking, an alchemy that’s usually good for disturbances of the spirit.

But distractions always come to an end, and the problem is always there, waiting.

If this were a movie problem, say, a World War I drama in the trenches, there would be a Christmas truce. Soldiers would emerge from their trenches and walk toward one another in the fog and snow and mud. They’d come face to face with unshaven strangers who eerily resembled themselves. Someone would offer a soggy cigarette or two, someone else a hoarded silver lighter that belonged to his father. Another would play a concertina while wearing tattered gloves.

But sentimentality is in short supply this year, not even available on the black market, much less the dark web.

What to do? After I took a sip of uncompromisingly cold tea, the only solution that presented itself was to move closer to the opposite pole. If not physically, then at least mentally. I could read about the other point of view. Head to the mall and listen without judgement to conversations. Attend a demonstration and stand on the opposite side. Take part in relevant community outreach, like Better Angels.

Maybe even smile at a stranger or two.

I didn’t know if any of those things would make a difference, but I did know I wanted to enjoy my week off. I was willing to... try... to give them a try.

It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do.

Happy holidays, everyone. Peace on earth and goodwill to all. No exceptions.


About The Author

Taran March @ Quality Digest’s picture

Taran March @ Quality Digest

Taran March is Quality Digest’s executive editor. A 35-year veteran of publishing, March has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and universities. When not plotting the course of QD with the team, she usually can be found clicking around the internet in search of news and clues to the human condition.



Wonderfully put, Taran. There are no right answers, but there are wrong questions... like any time any of us start by asking, "Why can't she/he/they just..." No. Stop. Start again. "Why can't I just..." Better. We can only change our own responses and behaviors, but if enough of us do, it can change everything. Thanks so much for a deeply thoughtful piece. Happy holidays! (And by the way, I very much miss your scones...) 

Amen AND amen brother Mike

Seems easy, but... well... actually it is easy. Like you said, if our first step is to STOP... rather than SPEAK, we are more than half way there. I would add that we have to not care whether or not the other person does the same. My responsibility is to control what I do and hopefully set an example for others. I think it's also important that we not focus on what that person's opinion is, but rather why they believe the way they do. So ask them. Most of the time you will find that they are coming from the same place you are, want the same thing, but you disagree on how to get there. Understanding a person's motivations goes a long way toward understanding... even if not agreeing.


Wonderfully put guys. Happy

Wonderfully put guys.

Happy Holidays!