No Poison on Thanksgiving, Please!

It was the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl who famously maintained that there are but two meaningful categories of persons: the decent and the indecent. While Frankl’s insight is no less true today than when he wrote of it in his 1946 work, Man’s Search for Meaning, contemporary sensibilities are cheapening the notion of decency.

In this hyper-partisan and fractious day and age, the concept has increasingly come to connote a characteristic reserved for those who concur with our politics.  Those with whom we disagree are no longer considered to be misinformed, confused, mistaken, unenlightened, ignorant, or just plain wrong; they are evil, dangerous, and subversive. Such indecent people are not to be tolerated. Indeed, mere knowledge of party affiliation has become an a priori deal-breaker in online dating sites.  Friendships have been dissolved over presumptive voting preferences.  Certain family members no longer receive invitations to holiday dinners owing to their views of the president, climate change, immigration reform, or the minimum wage.

Thanksgiving serves up an ideal opportunity to observe – if only for a single day – a respite from the unceasing contentiousness and rancor that weigh so heavily upon us.  There is no better day to lay off the snark, the dissing, the gratuitously offensive memes, and the smugly self-serving virtue signaling, in favor of reflecting upon our capacity to experience and express gratitude (while eating and drinking ourselves silly and watching football).  We really need Thanksgiving this year.

We need Thanksgiving to remind us that the things for which we are most grateful – which is to say, that which enables us to enjoy fuller, happier lives – are far more basic than politics, and thus unite rather than divide us.  Is there a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a Green, or an Independent whose political beliefs preclude a sense of gratitude for the gift of life, itself?  Is there a free-market capitalist or a democratic socialist whose economic preferences foreclose profound appreciation for good health?  Does fighting like cats and dogs on social media platforms render combatants incapable of acknowledging the blessings that come in the form of loving families and good friends?

This Thanksgiving, let’s make a point of reminding ourselves that the things that really count are nonpartisan, that we share the same basic needs and aspirations, and that the politics that so divide us really boil down to alternative ideas about how to best achieve lives of dignity for all, better health, less isolation and loneliness, greater shared prosperity, more kindness and compassion. In short, reflecting upon and expressing our gratitude is the most fitting antidote to the resentment that comes as a by-product of our increasingly hostile politics.

The late psychiatrist and radio talk-show host, David Viscott, understood resentment as a demand that someone else must feel guilty.  This is pretty much what we’re seeing in much of what currently passes as “political dialogue.”  It has become nearly impossible to take a position on either side of any major policy issue without being called something shameful by someone holding an opposing view.  Not only does such behavior foreclose the possibility of constructive political dialogue, it is mutually degrading.  It has been said that resentment can be likened to taking poison in the hope it will cause harm to someone else.  The resentment that pervades our contemporary political discourse poisons our society by denying our common humanity, distancing us from one another, and obscuring the basic needs and aspirations we share.

Come Thanksgiving, let’s call a time-out.  For one day, let’s elevate ourselves above the polluted political environment and fill ourselves with the fresh, invigorating air that comes with a focus on gratitude. Drink in our good fortune to be living in this day, age, and place.  Feast on the freedom we enjoy to speak our minds, while reflecting upon the responsibility that doing so entails.  And watch football. Seconds, anyone?

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