End of year sediment

More than ever this year I’ve been included on various professional-type holiday greetings, gifts, thank-yous, and the like. Let me make the strongest point upfront that I’m so pleased (nay, thrilled) to have so many connections. Running a small business, my network is colleagues, inspirations, friendships, commiseration, referrals and more. I feel happy and thankful most of the time to have this in my professional life. Growing these connections has been one of the greatest things of my career and being able to step back and see who I like/respect/care about, and who cares about/respects/likes me is a perpetual thrill.

But I am troubled to report that I find most of the seasonal expressions of these connections to be empty gestures. I’ve received mailings and cards that are basically advertising, with nothing speaking to the personal relationship I have with some from that group. Few take the time to write even a few words to me personally. Others are sending digital messages, with a graphic attached to an email. In some cases, the image is simply attached to an email with no text. Some have written earnest and doubtless heartfelt reflections and hopes. I received one logo-emblazoned trinket (so I should advertise for you in exchange for a small piece of technology?) and one gift-basket type of deal that represents the brand of the basket people far more than the brand of the gift-giving people.

This is nothing new; it’s the challenge of so many one-to-many communications. This blog, for example. But at least this blog (or anything that approaches media) doesn’t pretend to be one-to-one. There’s no “Dear Gilles:” prefacing this entry. I’m shouting it “out there” and presumably some will read it. I’m not sending it right to you, dear reader, although I may sometimes picture individuals who I know read this stuff.

And I wouldn’t even have this reaction if it wasn’t for the seasonal pile-on of such missives. I realize I sound incredibly ungrateful and catty for questioning any of this – indeed, it is the thought that counts and in most cases, the thought to include me is quite warming.

I’ve also noticed that we can begin to blur the already terribly fuzzy professional/personal line in these communications – making references to family or religious observations, without any knowledge of my specific situation.

Is this just a decline of business etiquette? Would it have been unthinkable 30 years ago to send a holiday greeting without jotting a personal note above the printed text? Or was business 30 years ago much less creative anyway and so we didn’t have the same level of expectations? Or I am just spoiled to expect a seasonal greeting from Company X to symbolize my relationship with Company X rather than just serve as an indicator that someone at Company X wants to “keep in touch” with me.

And perhaps this is some of the 70s-era Xmas cynicism (at least my point of reference from MAD magazine); that it’s about tipping the newspaper person and employees waiting for their bonus, that it’s advertising and selling of everything (this predates the 70s, of course, Stan Freberg did Green Christmas way before that). Maybe my insane naivete is coming out here; that I’m being asked to the dance, and that’s great, but you didn’t expect to have a nice conversation as well, did you?

I wouldn’t want to be taken off anyone’s list; it’s a great tangible reminder of the connections, in the aggregate. I would love to see simpler less earnest and overwrought and promotional communications. They may be perfectly sincere for the sender, but they don’t find their mark with me. Your mileage may vary!


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