The Christmas story is one we all know well. A little babe was born in a manger filled with hay, and a bright star guided shepherds and wise men from afar to bask in His glory. The tradition of gift giving at Christmastime started way back on that cold starry December evening with the wisemen presenting their gifts to baby Jesus. Unfortunately, it has transcended through the generations to so many of us stressing ourselves out scurrying to the malls, local shops and Internet trying to find that perfect gift for every person on our Christmas list.
Personally, gift giving and receiving is my least favorite part of the holiday season. When my boys were younger, I did love finding that perfect gift for them and hiding it under the tree so they would believe Santa somehow magically came down our non-existent chimney on Christmas Eve. But they are now years past believing in Santa, and I am both a procrastinator and someone who really doesn’t like to shop. So, I usually just end up rushing around the week before Christmas and questioning whether my gift choices will really resonate with anyone anyway.
I always admire those people who give gifts from their heart: artwork, writings, handmade crafts, and other keepsakes that remind their loved ones of their gratitude for years to come. It makes me think of the gifts we can bring to our relationships – whether it’s within our family, on our farms, and in our communities – to show gratitude and grace all year long. With so much unrest in so many facets of our lives right now, we all need the gifts of each other more now than ever.
Anger and frustration are running rampant in our world right now. We are not immune to this in the agricultural industry. I see it every day in my role at the Center. Family members struggling to get along, preventing the farm from moving forward and leading to complete breakdowns in relationships. Different groups arguing and pointing fingers, distracting them from collaborating on solutions to the very issues they are arguing about. And it’s not just in agriculture – it is happening in our town halls, in our school boards, in churches, and in almost every part of our society.
So how can we change this? Maybe it can be as simple as bringing our best gifts to our conversations, our relationships, and to how we respond to each other day in and day out. Here are a few of those “gifts” we could give when communicating and interacting with others.
- Active listening. My family members and my co-workers would probably tell you this is one I could be better at bringing to a conversation. Consider how you are listening to someone when they are talking to you. Are you listening to decide how you will respond, or are you truly listening to understand? A teacher once told me that God gave us two ears to listen and one mouth to talk for a reason. Try to listen twice as much as you talk, be attentive with your whole body, refrain from interrupting, and respond only after reflecting fully on what you heard.
- Compassion. There are entire movements out there right now reminding people just to be kind. But as simple as it sounds, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes we forget that even when we are criticizing a practice, a movement or an issue, there is usually someone on the other side who cares very deeply about it. So instead of being quick to criticize, think instead of how you can be quick to encourage, offer support, and choose compassion over hate.
- Empathy. In some ways, our society has lost our ability to empathize with any other perspective except our own. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share in the feelings of another. Essentially, to empathize with another, you have to put yourself in their shoes and see and feel things from their perspective. It’s a difficult trait to master but can go a long way in helping you find common ground in moving forward together.
- Vulnerability. During the pandemic, we all got good at putting up walls to protect ourselves from any potential harm. Being vulnerable means being willing to take down those walls and risk disappointment, rejection or harm that may come when you connect with others. Are you willing to put yourself in situations where you feel vulnerable? If so, it could lead to a greater connection with those around you and greater resiliency in facing whatever life throws your way.
- Trust. The foundation of any strong relationship is trust. In most situations, once trust is broken, the relationship will struggle to move forward until that trust is repaired. Building and maintaining trust usually comes down to the basics: Be true to your word, be clear about your commitments, be honest about what you can do and be willing to say no, demonstrate your willingness to trust in others, be open about what you are feeling, and admit mistakes.
The greatest gift anyone ever gave was on that Christmas Eve thousands of years ago when Jesus was born. It was the gift of forgiveness. Even then, God knew that none of us were perfect, and we all needed His grace to thrive in a broken world. As we look forward to celebrating the Christmas season, let’s all remember the gifts we can bring to strengthen the relationships we share within our families, our businesses, our communities and throughout our society. Sometimes these gifts are what can mean the most to someone who is struggling and needs your grace in their lives.
If you are in a situation where your farm family is struggling to find common ground in moving forward, the Center does have resources to help. Our Dairy Transition Team Program can provide funding and resources to bring in outside facilitation in guiding the conversation in the right direction. To learn more, visit centerfordairyexcellence.org or contact our On-Farm Programs Manager Melissa Anderson at 717-346-0849 to learn more.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.