The Antidote to Greed: Gratitude and Generosity
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and remains far and away my favorite holiday. I love the day because it is a moment to pause, gather with family and friends and reflect on that which – and those who – enrich our lives.
In addition to enjoying my growing family this Thanksgiving weekend, I want to consider the relationship between greed, gratitude and generosity.
Last Thanksgiving we knew we were in a crisis but did not yet call it a recession. This Thanksgiving we find ourselves digging out from the rubble of an economic crisis arguably caused by (dare I say it?)….. greed.
There, I said it.
This will be my first Thanksgiving without my father whose generation was tested by the Great Depression and World War II. His life was a testimony to the values of thrift, sacrifice, service, as well as love and connection to family and friends.
It will also be my second Thanksgiving as a grandfather, my 33rd as a father, 35th as an educator, and 40th as a husband. I am grateful for the people – family, friends, and colleagues – who enrich my life and enliven the discourse I find myself engaged in every day. I am grateful to serve in a school like Lawrence.
This Thanksgiving, I confess I am worried… and if you read my last blog entry, you know that for me, worry is a form of prayer.
I worry about the number and kind of crises our children and young people are exposed to – and the consumerism that seems to propel our nation into cycles of abundance and scarcity.
Children who attend Lawrence and all who live in Northeast Ohio are dealing with a broad range and a large number of crises. They originate inside their own homes, all the way to the Polar Regions, and even to the outer atmosphere! In addition they have to juggle the pressures of growing up in a society where they are drowning in information, but left thirsting for real knowledge and starving for wisdom.
What do we really know – and what do we need to do—to help our children navigate these crises now and avert these situations in the future? What can we do to address and reduce the greed that seems ubiquitous in our modern society and creates these crises in our economic system?
Crises offer unique opportunities. Crises challenge us to seize the moment, face the danger, let go of old assumptions, and change. The crises we are experiencing in our community and in our nation right now teach us that we can no longer blithely accept the environmental degradation caused by the growth-oriented and consumer-oriented society we have become.
This crisis urges us to confront greed. And it is about time.
History teaches us that greed has threatened our economic system and the commonweal before—in the ’30s most memorably, and many times since.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, inaugurated in 1933, only three years after the stock market crash of 1929, warned Americans about the stock-market speculation, and business wheeling and dealing which gave rise to the Great Depression:
“Practices of unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of the people. They have no vision and when there is no vision, the people perish.”
Words spoken in 1933… yet eerily relevant in the first decade of the 21st century. We have witnessed the collapse of giants like Enron, Lehman Bros. and huge financial bailouts for auto companies and insurance giants.
I remember President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1960 when I was 10 years old. He asked all Americans to search for ways to serve the interests of our fellow citizens here and around the world. He quoted Luke, chapter 12, verse 48:
“Of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
When I was a boy in college back in the ’60s, I read a book by Philip Slater, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University. He warned us in The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point of the isolation that the automobile, television, and other material and technological products cause in our communities and within our homes. He coined the term “toilet assumption” to describe America’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude, not only towards waste, but towards social and economic problems as well.
He predicted then that our pursuit of more, bigger, faster, disposable possessions would not enrich our lives, but leave us bereft.
The cycle of growth and recovery in an economy like ours is nothing new—and the profit motive has fueled unparalleled growth and development over the years in America. What is different about this recession was that it almost precipitated a worldwide economic meltdown that was preceded by a long run of what now appears to be unbridled greed – imprudent financial practices that went way beyond profit motive to the red zone.
There, I said it again.
And there may be only two antidotes to greed: gratitude and generosity.
This Thanksgiving, we can help our children and our students by acknowledging our appreciation and gratitude for the people and organizations that make a difference in our lives. Telling our children that we are grateful for them focuses on who they are and their contributions to our lives. It expresses appreciation for the energy, joy and exuberance they bring to our homes and to our communities. Too often the conversation centers on what they did or did not do, or what they got or did not get that meets this or that desire or need. Perhaps one thing we can do to counter the consumerism that afflicts this season is to focus on our relationships.
This Thanksgiving, we can model generosity to our children by serving and supporting our communities and the groups and organizations that support and serve us by donating our time, talents and treasure. If you are part of the Lawrence School community, you’ll get your chance to support our financial aid program for needy students, or our professional development program for teachers when you receive our Annual Fund appeal. If your house is like mine, you will receive solicitations to give to many worthy causes.
When we serve or give to others, when we support the schools, churches and community groups who serve and support the missions that are important to us, we take our eye off of our own concerns, stop worrying about the desires and details that distract and pester our days. We focus instead on fulfilling the needs of others. We gain distance from our own concerns, and see them in a different, broader context.
Is there any question that we could do with fewer of the things that clutter our lives, and less of the situations that create dissonance, confusion, and noise? Is there any question that we could do with more of those things that put us in touch with our best selves, our fundamental values and the other people and organizations who are so important in our lives?
This Thanksgiving, we can help our kids, our communities and ourselves by focusing on our memberships and affiliations.
This Thanksgiving, let’s offer our children and our students opportunities to be generous and grateful.
This Thanksgiving, let’s help them appreciate the importance of their relationships with others and their affiliations to groups and organizations that improve the quality of all our lives.
This Thanksgiving, let’s reconnect with the values of thrift, service, and sacrifice that characterized my father’s generation.
This Thanksgiving, let’s take a run at greed.
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