Gratitude is the least ostentatious of virtues. If courage is your virtue, it will more likely be noticed and celebrated. If you excel in the virtues of sport, you may become a national hero. If you prove yourself a lover against all odds, many will adore you. Some virtues make for good copy. Others, like gratitude, are more discreet, and much less likely to be noticed or celebrated.
What does it mean when we give thanks? When we show, feel, or express gratitude? For one thing, it’s to acknowledge there is something outside and beyond our selves. Something we’re indebted to that helped us become what we are. And it’s done with affection and admiration. Gratitude underscores our interconnectedness and interdependence, and seems to me, a great democratic virtue. It’s our choice to receive the gifts of people, animals, and nature—with gratitude or with brusque self-centeredness.
To be grateful is to be gracious. It is to affirm the other’s otherness and authenticity. To do that, we have to cut through clichés and assumptions and encounter the other in the spirit of openness. So we could say that the spirit of thanksgiving is pervasive in experience. Gratitude speaks to the essence of our social reality; it’s what makes us sociable beings.
But not just toward other people. We need to be sociable toward the whole of the natural word in which all our lives are nested. Unfortunately, we as a species have been anything but sociable toward Gaia, our mother planet, its land, air and water. Technological humanity is the horrifying opposite of grateful or sociable toward nature. For modern techno-capitalist society, nature is treated like a gigantic factory whose resources we exploit, consume, and destroy in order to slake the insatiable needs of consumerism and economic profiteering.
This ruthless unsociability toward nature has resulted in polluting and overheating the planet, which threatens to destabilize the very basis of world civilization. It’s about time to wake up to a curious fact—nature is paying us back for our lack of gratitude and sociability toward Earth. So happy thanksgiving to all, and to the gnarled cherry tree outside my bedroom window and to the groundhog that lives under my backyard shed.