John Whitehead's Commentary
This Thanksgiving, Don’t Just Give Thanks. Pay Your Blessings Forward [SHORT]
Listen: I know it’s been a hard, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning kind of year.
It’s been a year of hotheads and blowhards and killing sprees and bloodshed and takedowns.
It’s been a year in which tyranny took a few more steps forward and freedom got knocked down a few more notches.
It’s been a year with an abundance of bad news and a shortage of good news.
It’s been a year of too much hate and too little kindness.
It’s been a year in which politics and profit margins took precedence over decency, compassion and human-kindness.
We’ve been operating in this soul-sucking, topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down state for so long that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all that is wrong in the world in order to reflect and give thanks for what is good.
And now we find ourselves at this present moment, more than 200 years after George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation as a time to give thanks for a government whose purpose was to ensure the safety and happiness of its people and for a Constitution designed to safeguard civil and religious liberty.
But how do you give thanks for freedoms that are constantly being eroded?
How do you express gratitude for one’s safety when the perils posed by the American police state grow more treacherous by the day?
How do you come together as a nation in thanksgiving when the powers-that-be continue to polarize and divide us into warring factions?
Here’s what I know: Washington wanted Thanksgiving to be a day of contemplation, in which we frankly assessed our shortcomings, acknowledged our wrongdoings, and resolved to be a better, more peaceable nation in the year to come.
Clearly, this Thanksgiving finds us saddled with a government that is a far cry from Washington’s vision of a government that is:
· governed by wise, just and constitutional laws
- faithfully executed and obeyed by its agents
- assisting foreign nations with good government, peace, and concord
- promoting true religion, virtue and science
- and enabling temporal prosperity.
With every passing day, the U.S. government more closely resembles an evil empire, governed by laws that are rash, unjust and unconstitutional; policed by government agents who are corrupt, hypocritical and abusive; a menace to its own people; and the antithesis of everything Washington hoped the government would be—a blessing to all the people.
To that list, let me add one more: a populace that remains silent in the face of the nation’s downfall.
By doing nothing, by remaining silent, by being bystanders to injustice, hate and wrongdoing, good people become as guilty as the perpetrator.
So what can you do?
Be a hero, suggests psychologist Philip Zimbardo.
Be an individual. Listen to your inner voice. Take responsibility.
“Each of us has an inner hero we can draw upon in an emergency,” Zimbardo concluded. “If you think there is even a possibility that someone needs help, act on it. You may save a life. You are the modern version of the Good Samaritan that makes the world a better place for all of us.”
Resist the urge to look away. Recognize injustice. Refuse to remain silent.
Take a stand. Speak up. Speak out.
This is what Zimbardo refers to as “the power of one.”
All it takes is one person breaking away from the fold to change the dynamics of a situation. “Once any one helps, then in seconds others will join in because a new social norm emerges: Do Something Helpful.”
For instance, a few years ago in Florida, a family of six—four adults and two young boys—were swept out to sea by a powerful rip current in Panama City Beach. There was no lifeguard on duty. The police were standing by, waiting for a rescue boat. And the few people who had tried to help ended up stranded, as well.
Those on shore grouped together and formed a human chain. What started with five volunteers grew to 15, then 80 people, some of whom couldn’t swim.
One by one, they linked hands and stretched as far as their chain would go. The strongest of the volunteers swam out beyond the chain and began passing the stranded victims of the rip current down the chain.
One by one, they rescued those in trouble and pulled each other in.
There’s a moral here for what needs to happen in this country if we only can band together and prevail against the riptides that threaten to overwhelm us.
So here’s what I suggest.
Instead of just giving thanks this holiday season with words that are too soon forgotten, why not put your gratitude into action with deeds that spread a little kindness, lighten someone’s burden, and brighten some dark corner?
Pay your blessings forward in whatever way makes sense to you.
This is something that everyone can do no matter how tight our budgets or how crowded our schedules.
Engage in acts of kindness. Smile more. Fight less. Build bridges. Refuse to toxic politics define your relationships. Focus on the things that unite instead of that which divides. Be a hero, whether or not anyone ever notices.
Do your part to push back against the meanness of our culture with conscious compassion and humanity. Moods are contagious, the good and the bad. They can be passed from person to person. So can the actions associated with those moods, the good and the bad.
Even holding the door for someone or giving up your seat on a crowded train are acts of benevolence that, magnified by other such acts, can spark a movement.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate to a charity that does good work. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. “Adopt” an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months.
In other words, help those in need.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, fixing what’s wrong with this country is not going to happen overnight. But in the short term, there are things we can all do right now to make this world (or at least our small corners of it) a little bit kinder, a lot less hostile and more just.
It’s never too late to start making things right in the world.
So this year, don’t just give thanks at Thanksgiving.
Pay your blessings forward.