Thursday, November 23, 2017


Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday, like virtually all holidays aimed at celebrating versions of our nation's history. But it is also centered on the subject of gratitude, and for that reason, I honor the holiday every year. Because gratitude is hugely important.

Whether it's a busy moment with family

Or a quiet moment with family

We Americans are not great at gratitude. When we do attempt it, it comes out as some stranger version of "I'm grateful that I deserve all the good things in my life" or "I'm grateful that I'm just naturally better than everyone else." When Barack Obama suggested that successful people owed a debt to all the other folks that helped make that success possible, you would have thought he had suggested that successful people ate puppies in Satanic rituals.

My life is good. Really good. But my parents, my genetic gifts, my emergence from the womb in this particular place and time, the government that has kept my country of residence relatively stable, the diseases that I have never contracted, the catastrophic accidents that never happened to me, the consequences I haven't suffered for my more awful life choices-- I'm not responsible for any of that. I can't take credit for any of it. In fact, all of that represents a debt I owe the universe or God or fate or whatever Larger Power you prefer. Sure, I placed some good bets with the chips I was given, but that initial stake didn't come from me.

The only rational response to that is gratitude.

And that's important, because an absence of gratitude leads to a hardness of heart.

If I look at whatever success I have and declare, "I earned all of this. I am a success because I deserve to be a success," my sense of entitlement must lead me to condemn people who struggle for success. "If they're poor," I can confidently 'splain, "it's because they made bad choices, or are bad people. They deserve what they've gotten, and if they want something better, it's on them to make better choices. And none of that is my problem." This foolish self-importance is what leads people to say, "I shouldn't have to buy insurance because I am a righteous person who makes good choices and will never need insurance. People who need insurance are bad people-- why should I pay for their bad choices?"

The absence of gratitude flows from a false sense of indestructible rightness. I have it all figured out, therefor nothing bad will ever happen to me. This is the reasoning of a child, and not a very smart child at that, and lots of people have been taught a hard lesson in the school of life. Others, when something bad does happen to them, learn nothing, but blame it on the universe, or on a bunch of damned liberals in the gummint who have upended nature's law by mandating rewards for people who should be reaping punishment for their awful choices.

This hardened lack of gratitude is as old as the Pharisees saying, "I thank God I am not like [aka "better"] other men." And it remains toxic.

You can't have gratitude without humility. Sure, you can feel pride in good work done well, and you should. But doing good work is part of our responsibility. Humility is not self-flagellation, declaring we are but unworthy worms. If you've been given a gift, you have a responsibility to take good care of it, to use it well and to the benefit of others, who may well be just as deserving as you are, but for whatever reason didn't receive the same gifts-- or are supposed to receive those gifts via you.

Lack of gratitude ends in selfishness-- this is mine, I earned it, I don't owe anyone anything, and so I can use it for my own childish, selfish purposes, even destroying it in the process.

The sense of gratitude and obligation applies to gifts we didn't ask for and may have never wanted. It also and especially applies to gifts that have come down to us through less than honorable means.

So I'd argue that Thanksgiving may be one of the most important holidays we celebrate as a nation-- or would be, if we celebrated properly.

It has been a great day for me, celebrating with family, sharing some quiet quality time together. And it wouldn't have felt complete if I didn't check in with you folks as well. I hope it has been a great holiday and that you have had the chance to really feel thankfulness and gratitude. For my part, I continue to be grateful to be able to talk to you here and have you follow me as an audience. May the rest of this holiday weekend be a great one for you and yours.


  1. Thank you, Peter. I'm grateful for your insights, facts, humor, and time on task (this one!). Bless all those lovely people in the family/friends photo!
    Sandria at and FB Passion to Teach

  2. Peter, thank you for your blog, your sense of the absurd, and your masterful turns of phrase to call out the awfulness of the present moment in public schools in our country. Thanks, also, for your optimism and reminders of our reasons to be grateful.

    Christine Langhoff