31 Days To Go: The Hypocrisy of Thanksgiving

You know the thing about compassion and generosity? Easy in theory, not in practice.

A week ago, we asked you to give. We specified three charities with an easy-to-follow donation button to PayPal. We are thus far disappointed with the response. We hope you will reconsider our request. To reiterate: We accept any amount. It is mind-boggling that our readership (and we know we have a strong readership because we see the daily tracking statistics) can’t even spare one dollar and one minute. We are also aware that many of you have spent hours decorating your houses and otherwise investing in your own holidays. And you should. Enjoy it. You earned it. But when we ask so little, we find little to respect in excuses like “too busy.”

We do not deny that this is a busy time of year. Many of us feel overwhelmed. But a small donation may be the solution instead of the problem. Yesterday, psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote:  

We all know that the holidays also bring with them a great deal of potential for stress. There’s a great deal to do in a short span of time and even though you can now buy your holiday decorations in August, or so it seems, the end of the year brings with it many opportunities for overwork, overexposure to relatives, and overindulgence. Economic hardship is adding to the stress as is the greater hardship of travel. How can you possibly find fulfillment when you are on the go 24/7 trying to get everything done?

[…]

My research has shown that people who are able to give of themselves and feel that they are making a difference in the world are happier and more fulfilled. Taking time during the holidays to help out at a local shelter, foodbank, or soup kitchen can go a long way toward making you feel better as well as providing valuable services to those who are in need. If you aren’t able to spend your holidays with family, consider volunteering to serve others.

Unfortunately, that’s not the message we usually profess on Thanksgiving. Last week, Harvard Law professor Jon Hanson pointed out the downside of our thanks-giving: It encourages the status quo—at best, complacency; at worst, acceptance of injustice. Social psychologists call it “system justification.” Of course, it is silly to believe that gratitude is a wholly negative attitude. On the contrary, we should embrace the meaning of Thanksgiving completely. But perhaps we are missing the larger point of this gratitude. Is it possible that we have misconstrued the meaning of Thanksgiving?

By now, you might be getting tired of this blog reminding you why we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we believe the response to our donation request is evidence that we all need reminding. One of the social benefits of gratitude is that it makes us aware of the role fortune plays in our life, in turn making us humble about our own achievements and empathetic toward the misfortunes of our fellow human beings. Think Progress reported these misfortunes yesterday, and they are grim:

This Thursday, many Americans will sit down with friends and family to enjoy a hearty meal. Unfortunately, far too many of our nation’s citizens will go hungry. A record 49 million Americans had trouble finding enough to eat in 2008. The USDA’s annual food security report, released last week, showed that the number of people who “lacked consistent access to adequate food” soared to the highest level since the study began 14 years ago. About a third of these people were forced to “skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year” while the other two-thirds generally had enough to eat, but only by eating “cheaper or less varied foods” or by “relying on government aid.” Even more disturbingly, nearly one in four children — almost 17 million — lived in households in which food was at times scarce.

That is only a portion of the suffering; you should go to their site to read the rest. We at Trading 8s wish you the happiest and healthiest of Thanksgivings. We hope your Thanksgiving is so memory-making, joy-inducing, and stress-relieving that it makes you appreciate how blessed you are. Because we can all sit at our computers and talk about the “meaning of Christmas,” but failure to act makes hollow words of a sorry hypocrisy.