I’ve been thinking lately about Christmas and what our banana skins might be? The season of Advent is a time of preparation. So, in what ways can we prepare ourselves for the things that might mar or totally ruin our Christmas?
In this article I want to think about words. Christmas can be a really stressful time. There is much to do. There are places to be. There are high expectations. We might be missing someone, or feel we are missing out. We might be lonely, or can’t find a moments peace or space for ourselves. In these moments there is a propensity for pressure to build, stress to grow, and explosions follow – usually verbal. External processors have no trouble articulating how they feel over empathy for the recipient.
We hear it said often that some are thick skinned, however there are people, like me, who are thin-skinned. That is to say we can be sensitive to criticism or (perceived) insult; we can be easily offended or seem touchy. Why? Because words can have such power. To encourage or attack. To criticise or affirm.
You may know a scene in The Matrix when Neo is fired upon. We see the bullets travelling towards him and we understand from what we know of physics that he will surely die. However, he lifts his arm, hand out, and halts them mid-air, before selecting one of the bullets for closer inspection. The bullets then fall to the floor in a fantastic insight into the transition and transformation we see happening in Neo.
If you’re a thin-skinned person can I suggest you try adopting this strategy! We don’t have to let words impact us. We don’t have to give them power to harm us. I suggest we instead call to mind words which we know positively describe us; our character, our personality. Please understand that this takes time and practice. We can’t thicken our skin overnight, but we can learn to avoid the bullets, if we want to.
Yesterday I texted a few mates who’ve known me a while asking what 3 words would describe the best of me. They replied: "considerate, insightful (x3), nurturing, committed, Intuitive (x2), sensitive (but in a good way!), caring, warm (x2), measured, sincere, open, integrous, helpful, a leader (x2), honest, self-aware, listener, humble, loving, empathetic, conscientious, kind (x2)." My fav "top-bloke." Not too shabby eh!
Meanwhile, earlier this week I was told I was stroppy. At the time I was certainly feeling a huge sense of disappointment with something that had just happened – my expression clearly conveyed something different!
This is what I mean by a banana skin. It’s a moment that could spoil our day, week and even our Christmas. It’s better that we respond in a way that we’d like to, rather than react in a way that returns fire or retreats to tend to our wounds. You see I’m not saying we ignore what is said as it may inform us that the person needs support themselves, or is feeling upset or stressed, and so would welcome a listening ear - no man is an island. They may not be going about it in a helpful way, but we can choose to weigh what we hear, assess its validity, and decide what is fair, and what isn’t.
Much of what is spoken in accusation or venting we can perhaps let fall to the ground rather than absorb it. If some of what is said has a ring of truth, and we might be inclined to spiral emotionally, then taking a moment to remember all of the positive things that are true of us will be helpful. The negative words of others do not have to shape our behaviour, rather self-belief in who we are (if only as described by others who know us) can provide a more positive perspective.
Imagine someone has a rant or a moan at you, and you are feeling misunderstood and hurt. What’s your usual reaction? If that looks like a banana skin, try this. Take a moment and say to yourself. I am strong. I am resilient. I am intelligent. I am loved. I am okay. Or whatever your top 5 looks like, and read the list your friends sent you. Don’t take the bullet.
Obviously, you may need some time to handle what just came your way, while you process the negative into positive. Here’s a few tips:
 The shortest prayer I know is “Help”! Well, it's an option! You never know who's listening or what assistance might come your way!
 Toilet. Get yourself into the quietest toilet to hand, lock the door and look at your list of positive words. Stay in there as long as you can. Read and re-read your list until you know that the banana skin has been avoided.
 Newspaper. Get yourself down to the newsagent - the short walk option gets you out of the house with time to think and regroup.
 Jog or walk the dog. Another escape plan to help you find some equilibrium.
 Fag packet. Jot down the top five positive words that come to mind if your summary isn’t to hand. Use a fag-packet, napkin, post-it note, or use your phone and add to the list. Choose to believe that THIS is who you are.
Finally, I hope that this Christmas will be a time of great joy, relaxation, fun and laughter. For the moments that it feels uphill and you're struggling I trust these words will be a gift and help you to avoid any and every banana skin that presents itself. Dan
P.S. This is not, of course, the whole story and there are plenty of other banana skins: difficult relationships, over-tiredness, family issues, bereavement, illness and so on. I hope this is at least food for thought so that you can identify your banana skins and discover strategies to deal with them. If not, do get in touch.