Being thankful is a good thing, but how we do it is just as important. If we’re too accustomed to forming our opinions by the words of others, then unscrupulous people — and they abound — can use thankfulness as a weapon to keep us from focusing on societal and political wrongs.
There are many, many things about today’s society and political and economic climates that we are not obligated to be thankful about, and it’s good to adopt an attitude of cynicism toward “voices” that pressure us into compliance:
“You live in a nation of free speech. In many, many places, people cannot speak up with the freedom you can.”
Well yes, that’s true, but what’s also true is that our speech is not as free as it used to be. No longer is simply yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater the benchmark used by what we may, and may not say. “Racist language,” “Homophobia,” “Hate speech,” “Potential terrorist thoughts” — these concepts, misused, subtly chip away at our freedom to speak freely.
“The Fourth Amendment protects you from unwarranted or unreasonable search and seizure. You are safe in your homes and in your person.” Just recently people in North Texas were stopped at a roadblock and asked for saliva and blood, in an effort to “crack down” on drunk driving; theoretically voluntary, road blocks of this sort smack of something you’d see in Russia, in a James Bond movie. They’re not supposed to be part of real life, in a nation that calls itself free.
“Even with the economy down, people in the U.S. make more money than people elsewhere.”
We used to make more, and we are gradually being inoculated into the thought that we can expect to continue to make less. Too many college graduates — significantly in debt for a piece of paper — find themselves cobbling together two or more part-time jobs in an effort to pay rent on an apartment, because house prices — like medical care, insurance, and taxes — have risen far faster than wages.
So no, you don’t have to be thankful for these things. Be aware that there are problems and don’t accept mediocrity or oppression as normal or inevitable. Know your rights and fight to keep them.
While solving the big problems seems impossible, recognize that you have power over the small things, the good things, the overlooked things in your own life — and by identifying, appreciating, protecting, and using these small things, you can push yourself forward financially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.
Can you read? That’s a gift, one that many people don’t use. Turn off the TV, drown out the voices, and spend some time with a good book. You don’t need to go to school to be educated. Have you ever noticed that people passively watching a screen look like zombies? People with their noses in books look smart.
Is there food in the cupboard? Share some with someone who’s lacking, and you don’t have to go through a prescribed, approved charitable association to help others out. Surely you know a person who could use help with the electric bill, or an extra $20 for groceries, or a gift certificate to a toy store so they can buy their child a Christmas present. It doesn’t matter if you’re related to this person — in a healthy society, families look out for one another, and from there, give to others outside their circle. In a passive society, we figure that a government program will take care of it.
Can you walk? Get outside, alone or with a friend, and get exercise at the same time that you talk, or think, or daydream. School, work, business, community service, and media keep our minds and body at a constant state of busyness, and no matter how much of a socialite you are, you need time alone.
Have you ever heard of God? The freedom to believe what and how you do is an inalienable right, and contrary to what many people think, governments do not “give” us this right — they are supposed to protect it from being taken away. But nothing can stop the spiritual exchange between God and His people, and for now at least, people in “free” nations are allowed to talk about God, on a limited basis. Get to know Him, and let Him direct your life.
Read. Think. Take care of yourself and your family. Learn to create as opposed to always consume. Question. Turn off the media and tune out the voices. Pray.
These are the things to be thankful for. Don’t lose them.
Carolyn Henderson is the author of Live Happily on Less — Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, which addresses how to live well on whatever resources you have. She writes about contemporary Christianity, family life, and financial health in her blog, This Woman Writes as well as about Commonsense Christianity in her column at BeliefNet. Carolyn is the co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art.