So easy to be silent, but easier to be kind

How does it go? The age-old adage: Mind your P’s and Q’s. 

During the holiday break — I often laugh at the term break. More times than not, the sometimes the break is more of a hiccup in a bustling work schedule — my wife and I traveled back to Iowa to see both our families. My family is from a town just north of Des Moines, so, with some tricky road conditions an hour into our trip, it took us about 16 hours to arrive at our destination.

My wife’s family is from northeast Iowa, so, after a couple days with mine, we headed off to theirs. 

Despite the long hours in the car, I think we both agreed it was worth the travel.

Not only did we get to see our families, but we also had a chance to catch up with some high school friends. The best man at my wedding was home and happened to be free just around the 30-minute time slot we weren’t opening presents or on the road to see the next set of family members. We didn’t do much; we made a beer run and sat around for about an hour, just catching up. 

It was moments and visits like these that made the 16-hour journey seem well worth the miles. 

I have both cousins who have 2- and 3-year-olds, and nieces and nephews who are around the same age. We got to see them, too, and watched as they marveled at the new toy trucks, hats and coloring toys they got for presents from Santa and the grandparents. Heck, some were even more excited just to be tearing off the penguin-covered wrapping paper, and quickly moved on to the next box. 

But what really stuck out to me, more than anything this holiday season, was the children’s kindness and appreciation for the gifts. I think that says as much about them as it does their parents, who were always on their toes with the, “What do you say?” line. But never once to me did it seem as if the kids blew it off as a quick “thanks” and moved back to the toys. 

Hugs and kisses gave the affirmation that the “thank yous” weren’t lost on them, by any means. 

Even my best friend, who I visited and did really nothing at all with, thanked me for stopping by. He said he could’ve totally understood me just staying home, taking a nap and moving on with my Christmas plans, but I didn’t. I made the effort, as I had made a 16-hour effort to see my family, to see him. 

And that really got me thinking about another age-old adage: The holiday spirit. 

What is the holiday spirit, exactly? Is it some mythical force that somehow makes people nicer this time of year? Maybe it’s the extra butter mom puts in the cookies to fatten you up again before you’re back off to Montana or college or wherever it is you hail from. 

For me, it’s more than that.

My wife often teases me about my exaggeration of love for the holiday season and that holiday spirit. For years, I’ve kind of teased myself about it, too — there’s no better humor than self deprecation, I say.

I always kind of wondered why I enjoyed this time of year so much, when it is constantly filled with bitter weather and a lack of vitamin D. 

What I’ve discovered is it’s been instilled in me for years, and only recently — the last five or so years — have I really come to appreciate the ‘larger things in life’ as they say. I’d travel 16 hours a week if it meant 10 more hours with those I love and care deeply about. 

I was instilled when my parents gave me the ‘What do you say?’ cadence at Christmas and birthdays. And I think the reason I get so into that holiday spirit is because it’s not only a time when people are undoubtedly nicer to each other, but it’s a chance for another opportunity to start carrying that through our everyday lives.

Why hold out on minding our P’s and Q’s for just one time of the year, when we can be expressing to those around us our gratitude and affirmation toward them.

So, the next time your conscious tells you there’s an opportunity to give thanks, don’t ignore it. I’ve done that, and it’s easy to keep silent. But you’d be surprised how much easier it is — and how well received—’thank you’ can be.

Stephen Kalb-Koenigsfeld, Pioneer Editor



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