Thanksgiving day traditionally marks the beginning of a season of humility and generosity. That season, ending with New Year's Day, has become, over time, a season of competition and gluttony. These new characteristics, masquerading as the original ones, have been hardwired into our (U.S.) economy so that the survival of entire industries now depends on them.
Like anyone else imbedded in a culture, I have gone along with the traditions, though to a lesser degree than many (due more to my personality than any conscious effort). As I face this new season with a heightened awareness of the consequences of consumption, I feel more drawn than ever to its roots.
Humility is an appreciation of our true value and scale, as part of a greater whole. Our value stems from the fact that without us, the whole wouldn't exist; yet in terms of scale, most of us are pretty minor parts. When we extend this appreciation to others, we are drawn to care for them as we do ourselves, which is the essence of true generosity.
It is obvious from these definitions that what has gone so horribly wrong in recent years is the decoupling of generosity from humility. Without humility, generosity has no context and can easily become something else: a frenzy of consumption, involving the exchange of material wealth between people who are just as likely as not to be equals. With humility, generosity can take many forms, material and non-material, and finds its most potent expression between those with a lot and those who have little. Generosity can then also be applied to future generations, involving investment in the welfare of those yet to be.
This year my wife and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time as a married couple. We are most thankful for the fate that brought us together, and the relationships, starting with our own, that have developed since then (the most meaningful kind of growth imaginable). We celebrated those relationships, with the traditional meal as a backdrop.
As part of the preparations, we cleaned out our basement, giving away books and other items that others could get much more use out of. This had the combined effect of reducing consumption (giving people things that won't have to be produced new), improving other people's lives, and freeing up living space.
I will be looking for more creative ways to share and express my rediscovered humility in the days ahead, and hope that you, dear reader, will be inclined to do the same.