Saturday, December 18, 2010
A Christmas Story
When I got out of grad school and was working for KeyCorp, the 8th largest bank in the US at that time, I found myself at a holiday employee party in Beachwood Ohio, ground zero for Jews in the Cleveland area. I'm a born Lutheran who likes Christmas and Easter, but am pretty indifferent to organized religion. As Eric Hoffer noted, 'the opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.' Anyway our CEO Victor Riley was there to give the standard holiday pep talk. The theme was 'The Real Meaning of Christmas', which I figured meant something relating to transcendent ideas about love, charity, or family. Instead told the audience that the real meaning of Christmas was: The baby Jesus.
The mainly Jewish audience looked at each other. Sure, it made sense to a Catholic, but it's important to know your audience. I thought it was a hysterically obtuse attempt at profundity. Luckily, he didn't follow up with his thoughts on the real meaning of Easter.
The CEO left and we were drinking holiday spirits, everyone tried to forget his statements as if they were never said. Now, CEOs are generally people-persons, emotionally intelligent, people who can work a room. It reminded me that everyone's an idiot at something, even things in their bailiwick.
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The 'gentile cynic' quote was Orwell's? I thought it was Eric Hoffer that said that.
I mean 'gentle cynic' not 'gentile cynic'
And yet there is something touching about his naive sincerity in this matter. Here is a man whose every interaction at work is dominated by pragmatic considerations speaking in some sense from the heart. I imagine he understood his comments to be at some level impolitic.
I live in a neighborhood with a lot of vacation homes and my next door neighbor is a high level executive who spends the weekend maybe 5 times a year. I respect his privacy but I sense that this is a man who rarely feels free to let down his guard outside a narrow circle. What a life!
There's been a palpable change in this sort of thing since Eric was in grad school (which I assume was about 20 years ago). Back then, I remember the head coach of my high school football team having everyone take a knee while he led a prayer to Jesus before each game, and I remember the Catholic priest at my Army Reserve unit doing the same thing before the annual Christmas dinner. Neither was a mainly Jewish audience, but both had some Jews (as well as a handful of more exotic non-Christians). I doubt that explicitly Christian prayers are common in public, non-religious organizations these days.
We would always say the Lord's Prayer before wrestling matches in High School. We had no Jews on the team ever (only a couple in our high school) so no one really thought twice about it. The incantation was rather comforting, and remains to this day.
Hoffer! My 'favorite quotes' database had an error. tx!
What's the story behind the pic, btw?
It's from the popular Xmas movie, 'A Christmas Story'.
OK, thanks. Didn't recognize it.
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