From Thanksgiving to ‘Thanks-living’
by Eric Wright, Nov. 2012
Rudyard Kipling, author of Captains Courageous and The Jungle Book, was not only famous, but was quite wealthy. A newspaper reporter once approached him and said, “Mr. Kipling, I read that the money you make from your writings amounts to over twenty dollars a word.” The reporter pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a twenty dollar bill in exchange for one of your twenty dollar words.”
Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket and said, “Thanks!”
Ironically, no word Kipling could have selected is worth more. As Cicero observed centuries ago, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Gratitude is one of the qualities that psychologists say separates the happy from the sad. Gregg Easterbrook recently wrote a book entitled: The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, chronicling how in spite of our longer lifespans, incredible affluence (compared to our grandparents) and increased leisure time, people’s happiness quotient continues to dip. Obviously something is missing and perhaps Cicero hit the nail on the head.
The Oprah Factor
The perfect example of this was The Oprah Winfrey Show, which celebrated its 19th season by giving away new cars. The 276 audience members were selected because friends or family had written about their need for a new automobile. Oprah began by calling 11 people out of the audience onto the stage. She gave each of them a brand new Pontiac G6. Then she distributed a gift box to everyone in the audience, telling them that one of them contained the keys to a 12th new car. But when the audience opened the boxes, each one had a set of keys. Oprah jumped up and down and yelled, “Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car!” There was pandemonium as the audience yelled and hugged each other.
But not all is well in Oprahland; a number of people who received the new cars complained. Even though the local taxes and licensing fees were covered with the gift, the IRS took a sizable bite out of their pocket because the $28,000 sticker price was added to their income for the year, plus their car insurance increased. Some of the winners thought that all this should have been taken into account and they should have been given the cash to cover these expenses as well.
What a contrast to one of the characters at the center of our Thanksgiving story. He was a man who had every reason to see himself as a victim and to justify the most vicious hatred. I speak of Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, a Native American member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation.
In the early 1600’s, John Smith’s expedition was trying to build contacts for trade with the native people. However, Thomas Hunt, whom Smith and others described as “dishonest and inhumane,” lured 24 Nauset and Pawtuxet Indians onboard his ship and took them to Malaga, Spain for sale as slaves. A group of Friars heard about their plight and took custody of the remaining Indians, one of which was Squanto. They treated him well, freed him from slavery, and eventually Squanto made his way to England – where he improved his English – and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
It wasn’t until 1618 – ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped – that he was on a ship returning to America as a free man. There he learned of the second blow delivered by the English. His tribe had died from an epidemic, probably smallpox brought by the earlier colonists. He and another Indian, Samoset, went to live with the neighboring tribe of the Wampanoag near present-day Plymouth, MA. There he was introduced to the new Pilgrim settlers and Squanto enters our history.
Even though he had been captured by the English and deprived of family and friends because of their disease, he still chose to help the Pilgrims who had barely survived their first, harsh winter. In all probability they wouldn’t have made it through the year without his wisdom and guidance.
Perhaps he understood something Oprah Winfrey would later say, “True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’”