Thanksgiving often has as much to do with satiation as with appreciation. As kids we would gorge ourselves on mom’s amazing fruit salad. The turkey and potatoes just finished the job of stuffing ourselves. The resulting discomfort made it difficult to feel anything positive, much less gratitude. But over the years she stressed to us kids the value of appreciation.
Thanksgiving is a particularly important and meaningful holiday. Gratitude is an attitude, as well as a practice. As long as we feel grateful, we are much less apt to feel entitled. This is fundamental to a positive outlook, and is so important to wellbeing we should look around for things for which to give thanks. Fortunately, there is no lack. Every day ought to be a Thanksgiving. Examples are literally everywhere. Here are just a couple, possibly unusual, examples.
I’m grateful for the many excellent teachers I’ve known throughout my life. They helped keep me from remaining feral. The most important outcome of education is not about getting a job (that’s training). Education is about establishing a meaningful connection to life and to this planet. Proper education allows you to “gaze into the abyss.” We are vastly more ignorant than knowledgeable. Understanding this is a foundation of wisdom.
I’m grateful for soil. It’s been called the largest and least known treasure trove of life on Earth. It contains countless organisms: beetles, ants, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, worms, etc. There are more living things beneath the surface than above. A single teaspoon of living soil can hold many billions of living things. As Wisconsin conservationist and author, Aldo Leopold points out: “The destruction of soil is the most fundamental kind of economic loss which the human race can suffer.” There is hope. There are experiments all over the world right now that show increases in agricultural productivity as soil is brought back to life in a process known as “organic farming.”
Some of us are indeed grateful for the animals that have partnered with us and with our ancestors for many thousands of years. I’m thinking of dogs and horses in particular. There’s something about the connections with these amazing critters that touches us very deeply and enhances our lives. “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” (Mark Twain) “To err is human, to forgive canine.” (Unknown) “My treasures do not clink together or glitter. They gleam in the sun and neigh in the night.” (Old Arab Proverb)
Journalism is deserving of gratitude. Independent, objective, accurate information, is the foundation of democracy. Only a well informed public can make rational, educated decisions. But financial interests have long been busy chipping away at the independence of mainstream news media. Public TV and radio need your financial support, in order to remain a bastion of journalistic independence and objectivity.
Chances are very few people will join me in giving thanks for a very large and destructive asteroid. But the fact is, without a colossal collision some 65 million years ago, we most certainly would not be here. Dinosaurs at that time had populated this amazing planet for more than 200 million years. But when a mountain-sized asteroid crashed near the Yucatan peninsula it filled the atmosphere with debris and instantly changed the climate so much that it made Earth uninhabitable for a whole host of species, both on land and in the oceans. Dinosaurs were wiped out (except for the small group we call “birds”).
In the absence of ravenous reptiles, a bunch of small surviving animals were poised to take full advantage of the newly vacated landscape. These newly emerging critters are what we now call mammals. They eventually gave rise to a plethora of species, including us. Therefore we owe a huge debt of gratitude to a planetary catastrophe some 65 million years ago.
Considering the volatile mix of politics and religion (historically), I’m grateful for the wall of separation between church and state, which is implicit in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Among our fundamental rights is freedom of, as well as freedom from, various religions. The importance of this is reflected in the controversy it still generates.
I’m thankful that Charles Darwin devoted his considerable talents to interpreting the amazing story of life on Earth. He gave us “modern biology,” but also a connection to the land, and demonstrated that we are of this Earth, not merely on it. His groundbreaking theory of evolution represents one of the greatest contributions to modern science.
I’m grateful President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping came to a tentative agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Earth needs our help as never before. We’ve never been in a position to cause more extinctions than we are right now. Unless we change our ways, we are becoming the cause of Earth’s sixth major extinction. Fortunately we’ve also never been in a position to prevent more extinctions than right now. Just remember, we don’t have to be like the asteroids, they lack thoughtfulness and gratitude.
Like kids at Thanksgiving, too many of us have been gorging on wealth and possessions with little regard for the consequences or the future. Habitats have been shrinking as satiation has been overshadowing appreciation. We have to become a force for change. Check out these websites of organizations dedicated to restoring environmental health: audubon.org, 350.org, nrdc.org, populationconnection.org.