Thanks to give

Posted on November 27, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”-Cicero

Now that the morning after Thanksgiving has become shrouded as Black Friday, we need more than ever to remember the above sentiments.

I’ve been fortunate enough, and thankful for it, to generally eschew any association with the pre-dawn shenanigans perpetrated in the name of bargains, but I’ve read and heard plenty of distinctively less-than-virtuous behavior by Black Friday shoppers.

Everyone remembers the deadly human stampede two years ago at a Long Island Wal-Mart. That same day, an argument in a California toy store turned into a gunfight, leaving two dead.

Less violent stories of consumer disrespect, impatience, ugly language and uncivil behavior abound in anecdotes, blogs and news story comments across the country.

A better moniker for today might be Forgetful Friday, since the thanks given from Thursday wind up tossed aside like discarded coupon fliers in the frenzy to worship at consumerism’s altar.

It wasn’t long ago that I used to remark on Thanksgiving for its distinct lack of commercialization. The average turkey dinner has always been a bargain, and expensive decorations have never really caught on as with Halloween and Christmas.

With its deeply religious roots, and its celebration of simple pleasures like family and feasting, I believed it impossible to commercialize Thanksgiving Day. Instead, they’ve completely commercialized the next day.

The shopping bonanza that ubiquitously unfolded before the sun even rose today has created a merchandising siren song that lures millions out of bed and off to shop before they had fully digested yesterday’s turkey and dressing.

And in true Mae West fashion, believing too much of a good thing canbe wonderful, the retail industry is seeking to expand the delirium. We’ve already got Cyber Monday and many experts see a totally Black November in the cards.

Another intrusive trend is retailers promoting online shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself, offering the same bottom-dollar deals a day early to bargain hunters who don’t want to get up early or stand in lines.

Who says we don’t have a national religion? The consumption theology was highlighted 63 years ago in a scene from “Miracle on 34th Street” when the young Macy’s janitor who enjoyed playing Santa Claus laments the situation to the real Kris Kringle.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world,” Alfred says,“but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck.”

The make-a-buck mentality explains the sales gimmicks, but what propels the whole commercial enterprise is a spend-a-buck social ethospervading the population at large. The joyous satisfaction once reserved for production and self-sufficiency has been transplanted by the spurious pleasure of voracious consumption.

Isn’t it interesting that the trend lines for household consumption expenditures and government spending have risen in parallel trajectories? And that personal savings rates have collapsed in concert with swelling government deficits?

Despite today’s modern manifestation as Black Friday, there’s still plenty to be thankful for, and plenty of other virtues to be bred from that gratitude.

The spirit of Thanksgiving means acknowledging that blessings alwaysoutnumber our ability to count them. Just as we confuse the urgent with the important, so adroitly explained by Stephen Covey in his “7 Habits” book, we also often hyper-focus on our problems while blind to our blessings.

We all have our own lists, of course, and with all the technology at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to make one. Even if you only check off your blessings mentally, it’s a worthwhile exercise.

My list begins close to home with a family near and dear to our own whose son suffered a neck injury in a playoff football game last Friday night. Though nobody knew it at the time, he had broken his C6 vertebrae. Thank heavens his teammates didn’t instinctively pull him to his feet; any movement could have wreaked irreparable injury.

Thank goodness for the athletic trainer who was almost instantly beside the fallen player, and for the orthopedic sports medicine specialists who quickly joined her on the field and helped secure and protecthis neck.

And who to thank but God that, by such a series of intricately intertwined circumstances, the young man wound up undergoing successful surgery this week, with prospects for a full recovery?

Here are a few more to help jumpstart your own list.

Health. If you’ve got it, you cannot be thankful enough.

Grandparents. Often undervalued in today’s society, time spent with them is one of life’s all-time best treasures.

Rain. Give extra thanks if you’re a duck hunter.

Today. Never neglect to appreciate that life happens daily.

Citizenship. Most of us are American by grace. Look around the world and thank your lucky stars.

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