Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Tree, An Experiment, Interesting Findings


(photo description: An artificial Christmas tree with bright lights glowing.)

Our Christmas tree is still up.


It is.

Pay attention to  your thoughts about this fact.

Our Christmas tree is still up.

Look inside yourself to see if you have an opinion about this.

I'm asking you to do this because I tried a little experiment this week. I told several people, throughout the day, some who worked with people with disabilities and some who do not, some people had disabilities, some did not. I wanted to see the reactions of people to this fact. I found it surprisingly easy to slip this fact into conversation. I didn't simply announce it - that would have been socially odd. No, I just slipped it in, an interesting side note to a regular conversation.

I kept some data.

I do that kind of thing.

I found an interesting little fact in my little experiment. People who had the most control in their lives were the most likely to want to assert control in mine. Care providers, random non-disabled people - like the guy in the convenience store where I buy lottery tickets, people with physical disabilities who rode the bus with me going to work - 92 percent of these people suddenly started giving me their opinion, tinged with admonishment, about when a tree should come down. Of those 57 percent flat out told me that it was wrong to have a tree up so long after the holiday season. Of those 42 percent were quite heated about it, it inflamed their tempers.

Statistically people with intellectual disabilities responded differently. While 37 percent of them responded with some form of the instruction, 'You should take it down,' the majority said some version of 'that's great.' What was interesting was that people with intellectual disabilities were amazed at my FREEDOM to have my tree up, that no one was making me take it down. 'You get to keep your tree up as long as you want?' was the kind of shocked reply.

I found it interesting that most people, who have power in their lives, felt completely free to assert power in mine and people who have little power in their lives were astonished by the freedom I had and made no attempt to admonish or direct me to do differently than I wanted. In fact of the 63 percent who didn't attempt to convince me that it's time to take the tree down, 48 percent of those celebrated the fact that the tree was up. None of the other group did this.

This isn't very scientific, it wasn't a huge group, but it was interesting. Those with power, assert power, those without power did not. Those who thought they 'knew better' felt completely free to have an opinion and to feel that opinion was valid and needed to be shared, sometimes forcibly. Those who were used to the control of others, simply marvelled at the fact that I had control in my own life.

The weird thing about this, for me, is that any one has an opinion about the fact that we still have our Christmas tree up. It's something that has no effect on anyone else and simply, really, doesn't matter.

This is the problem we have in service provision. We have opinions on things that don't matter and we want those opinions heard and understood. Further, we want people to change and do things, things that ultimately don't matter, our way, the right way.

Some things don't matter.

Some things don't need your opinion.

Some things just are and as such should be left alone.

Why does anyone care about my tree in my home?

It doesn't matter.

We need to learn to separate things that matter from things that don't ... and then learn to keep our opinions to our selves while we celebrate the things that don't matter. The things that don't matter are the things that really matter to the people who do things differently.

Like having their Christmas tree up in the middle of January.


Glee said...

wow - yep

Susan said...

We did our own version of this experiment last year by not taking our tree down at all. In fact, it's still up, thirteen months later which is probably some kind of world's record. It's true, doing that drove some people - most people - c-R-a-Z-y. Not the grandkids, though. They either LOVED it, or simply accepted it. I've never taken the time to analyze "why" I did it. I think it's because early on last year, when I mentioned to someone well into January that the tree was still up, I got one of those responses you mentioned and thought, "what the heck? What do you care?" I realized that I was being "shamed" for my actions in subtle to not-so-subtle variations. I rebelled against that and decided not to accept that shame, and threw it back instead right at the people who deserved it, in my own subtle way. Screw you. You think I should be ashamed of myself for leaving my tree up too long? Noooo - you are the one who should be ashamed of yourself for having an opinion on this at all! And I left that danged tree up the entire year. That little act of standing against the tide and riding it out may or may not have made a point for others, (probably not) but it did amazing things for ME. It was actually evidence on the outside of a huge growth spurt on the inside. I love this post... And how you applied and connect your experiment to "power". Thanks for doing that - and thanks for the unintentional solidarity. :)

Just Heidi said...

Very interesting findings indeed. I will be sharing this Blog Entry with the students I teach. Our opinions, our judgements have no place in the lives of others- UNLESS- our opinions or feedback are invited. As we know from being disabled, as well as working with individuals who are disabled, opinions and pet peeves can quickly turn into GOAL PLANS and Behavior Plans... Thank you once again Dave, for the lesson! :)

Louise said...

As a kid I always wanted to keep ours up till my birthday (17th Jan). One year we did though it had no needles left. My first response to your post headed towards a 'that's wrong' before veering sharply into 'that's brilliant!'

Kris S. said...

I'm so glad, Dave. Although most people who live along my route to work have taken down their holiday decorations, I was pleased to note 7 houses still displaying lights or a tree during my drive home late last week. Christmas lights are a welcome bright spot in the dead of winter, IMHO.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...


All our reasons for taking a tree down are practical (it takes up half the dining room table), or we really need to push the chairs back, or stuff is starting to roll around the living room.

Ours is still up - I mentioned to our daughter that she might want to think about putting it away one of these days.

I love looking at it, but after a few weeks we rarely turn the lights on.

Enjoy yours.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave: I agree with what Glee said about linking people's responses to power. Colleen

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to agree with Susan's comments.

Kristine said...

For the record, before I even read the sentence telling me to pay attention to my reactions, my instant reaction was pure delight! I want to come bask in the happy glow of your Christmas tree. :) I think Christmas trees and lights bring all kinds of joy! And I also tend to really enjoy watching people who just do what they want to do, as long as it's not causing any harm, without regard for society's rules. :)

Don't know where I fall in terms of people who have control in their lives… I work full-time and live about as independently as a woman in a wheelchair can live. As a teacher, I get to be "in charge" for a significant portion of my day. But I have to admit that I often feel trapped and out-of-control in many aspects of my life. I have a lot of anxiety and fear. So, I don't know, do with that what you will….

Miriam said...

For whatever it's worth, my reaction (before I read any of the context) was a big that's-awesome sort of grin.

Of course, I fall into the without-control-of-own-life group (physically disabled enough to need help doing anything physical, with a LOT of frustrations in my life about having to rely on other people) so that's pretty much another data point in your favor.

wheeliecrone said...

Years ago, I knew a woman who liked Christmas so much that she kept her house decorated for Christmas all throughout the year. Christmas tree, tinsel, mistletoe, elves - the whole nine yards.

She worked out who was and who was not her friend by their attitude toward her decorating scheme.

An odd method, but quite effective.

B. said...

Interesting! On the way home from the restaurant this evening we commented about seeing so many Christmas lights still lit up but didn't think anymore about it until I read your blog. I have noticed that many people seem to need other people to do as they do. They like the word 'should'. It's kind of sad that someone would expend so much energy worrying about your tree.

Mary said...

I am heavily biased in this area. My birthday is the day after Twelfth Night (the day when the decorations are traditionally removed), and as a child growing up I sincerely believed that everyone including the church, the shops and the town council took down decorations on that day, in order that I could celebrate my birthday without it being rolled up into the Christmas celebrations.

So if you'd asked me, I'd have replied that it was in the Rules that the decorations must come down before I want to put my birthday cards up. I'd have been smiling, though. Even I can't bring myself to passionately argue the point.

It may also be relevant that you asked them to express an opinion, therefore they assume you want to hear it. Perhaps they even think you want it down, can't quite manage it yourself, so you're angling for arguments you could use to persuade Joe to take it down! I wonder if a lot of the people telling you that you "should" take it down, wouldn't have said a word if they'd just happened to be at your house and saw you still had your tree up.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks all for your comments, I'm enjoying the discussion. Mary, I want to point out that I didn't ask for opinions, I just casually brought it up in conversations and, surprisingly, found it pounced upon as subject for opinion and direction more often than not.

Connie said...

Our town leaves the lights up downtown—they're wound around tree trunks and through the branches—until Valentine's Day. The lights really brighten the sidewalks during these dark winter nights so, as far as I know, everyone thinks it's a great idea.

One year my parents were coming to celebrate Christmas about the middle of January so we left our tree up until then. It was a real tree and it may have been before we owned a stand that held water. In any case, the tree was quite dry although it did still have needles. We had many odd looks and questions from visitors although "my parents can't come until next weekend" was usually enough explanation.

Ettina said...

Our Christmas tree is still up too. We'll probably take it down soon, since my cat has already knocked it down once. But we'll take it down when we want to, not when society says we should.

Anonymous said...

Oh Christmas tree oh Christmas tree
How lovely are your branches
In beauty green they always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow
Oh Christmas tree oh Christmas tree
How lovely are your branches.

Mary said...

My apologies, Dave - I misread.

Anonymous said...


I seem to have no control over my life whatsoever.

I would have answered you to your announcement: thats great, it is a lot of joy to look at a cheerful christmas tree...

Makes me think
Julia :-)

Princeton Posse said...

My friend with other abilities, still has her tree up. It's a beautiful fluffy pink one with twinkle lights. Looks good all year round.

Anonymous said...

We have two trees. A "family" tree that is real, with lovely, fragile glass ornaments; and a "kid's" tree that is artificial, with fun, unbreakable ornaments.

Both usually stay up well into March. I try to get them down by Easter, but I make no guarantees.

I have had both positive and negative opinions on them (and of my sloth!), but unless a negative opinion is accompanied by an offer to help me take them down, I can't be bothered to mind.

Enjoy your tree, Dave and Joe. For as long as you wish to! :^)


Anonymous said...

Way to go.....I LOVE IT!! I have always joked that if I had my way I would leave the tree up all year and decorate it for each holiday!! Hearts & candy for Valentines Day, Green decorations for St Patrick's Day and Eggs & bunnies for Easter and so on.... there is something therapeutic and relaxing having a decorated tree....lights and all the memories of good times!! I think I might do it next year!!