Contentment Diary: 11/25/2010

All of America is writing “I am thankful” on Facebook this morning, and I am reminded that I have not written a contentment diary post in quite some time. Somewhere earlier in the year, I amused myself with the idea of writing curmudgeonly entries and calling them a contentment diary. It still amuses me. Far better this way than smarmy attempts at sincerity. Insincere and sarcastic are often the more honest choices, after all, in a world that insists on looking at the bright side of everything no matter how insane everything becomes.

As an example, I think of the people who don’t want to read anything that depicts America in a bad light. They want to feel proud of their country. They don’t want to feel ashamed. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to them that the two are not mutually exclusive. It is easier to only feel the pride. It is easier to dismiss anything negative as “hate America” talk.

Sometimes a negative attitude is the only honest attitude to have, though. Sometimes refusing to look at the negative is just a means of justifying continued atrocities.

I’ve been toying with the idea of applying for summer workshops for teachers. I’ve been feeling downtrodden, and I thought a workshop might rejuvenate me. There are two I am most interested in from the available choices–one on the Holocaust and another on Freedom Summer. If I do them both in one summer, that should really cheer me up.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people can allow such obvious wrong to happen around them on such a grand scale. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Most people are just trying to get by however they can. Most people are trying with everything in them to maintain the best outlook possible on their own circumstances. Most people are easily swayed to use their concepts of good and evil to cast innocent people as evil and therefore as unworthy of any aid or even of any compassion.

We aren’t that far removed from the Holocaust or from Freedom Summer. These are not distant history. They are recent history. They are easily repeatable. I fear that the level of fear and anger generated by our current economic crisis is driving us all toward something equally horrific. Everywhere there is hate speak of one form or another. Everywhere there is paranoia and irrational behavior of one form or another.

We do not know who the enemy is, so we have made enemies of everyone. We have made enemies of one another, directing our anger not at some external force, but at brothers, neighbors, once and future friends, who just happen to be exercising their rights to disagree with us.

In this, we aren’t that far removed from the worst acts of hatred the world has ever seen. Perhaps civilizations never are. Perhaps human beings are incapable of being any more advanced socially than packs of baboons in which there are only two possible roles–the oppressor or the oppressed. Perhaps life is just a fight to see who gets to be the one to hurt the other.

I like to think differently. When I see every political talk and every religious talk lead with points of confrontation rather than points of reconciliation, I have my doubts. Those doubts are inappropriate for Thanksgiving morning. Malcontent of any sort is inappropriate for Thanksgiving. This is a day to celebrate all of the stuff you have that other people don’t have. It is a day to celebrate the opportunities you have because other people don’t have them.

Don’t think I’m not grateful. I’m am very grateful for all that I have–my family, my friends, my home, my opportunities, my talents. I love it all, and I know how good I have it. I’m so grateful that, like every good American, I want more. I want more of all that good stuff for me.

Faulkner talked about the capacity of the human spirit to prevail in the face of the threat of nuclear annihilation. What I worry about today is not the threat of terrorism from outsiders to my country. It is the threat of terrorism from within. It is the threat of self-destruction by hatred for one another. It is the threat of our inability to see each other as people rather than as opponents, as competitors for pieces of fat political pies.

Part of me sees no hope for that. Part of me does. Part of me believes in the capacity of the human spirit to prevail with kindness, with compassion, with love and loyalty.

The economy is starting to recover, they say, but the people who have been out of work the longest are not. The Hattiesburg American reports a sharp increase this year in the number of families seeking help from charities. If you want to show real gratitude for what you have today, try doing something to help someone else. Among all of the other Thanksgiving messages I’ve read this morning, I’ve seen people say they were doing just that. They are the ones who give me hope.

I’m going to put some thought into what I can do too…right after I go have my piece of pumpkin pie with the family for which I am every so grateful.

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