Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Giving back as a sincere expression of gratitude
Published: 11-20-2023 8:00 AM
Modified: 11-21-2023 5:56 PM
At any time of the year, being appreciative of oneself and others is a critical component of our humanity. For some of us in the U.S. and abroad, this Thursday will mark what is commonly known as “Thanksgiving,” — family-and-friends ritual whereby people we know and care about connect in person and gorge on a traditional (or alternative) seasonal meal.
For others, not as well off, fortunate, or blessed over time, this day is a reckoning known as a “Day of Mourning,” during which they reflect on how lands they tended were taken from them, which was framed as “Manifest Destiny.” As such, it is also a time when those less fortunate are reminded of this as well as the oppression and prejudice and indignities they have suffered over the course of their lives.
It is simply untrue that our Thanksgiving holiday is just that: what some perceive as lightness and an offering of gratitude, others see as a dark and painful stain in our nation’s history. And, clearly, this paradox has been and is continuing to occur elsewhere around the world.
Most of us have others in our lives, whether past or present, to be thankful for. Many of us can appreciate what we may have inherited from our forebearers, and/or what we have striven so hard to gain and achieve in our lives. Whether a universal human experience or not, having gratitude for the goodness and gifts and opportunities in our lives can be a difference-maker in our personal development, relationships, family, work, and leisure.
We all live in a world that is ever-changing and evolving. Even that can be something to be thankful for, as time itself demarcates the gifts we can offer and receive. Outward expressions of appreciation to and for others helps to build trust, care, connection, and understanding. This is true everywhere and always. We are wise and prudent when we can be generous enough to recognize and share our thanks for the goodness of others, the more so when it lands on or near ourselves.
When I reflect on this past year as it winds down, I hold much gratitude for many people, and many things. I find it deeply meaningful and mindful when I can remember to take stock and time to call these out, both to others and to myself. While challenging at moments as I age, I am most thankful for the gifts of my health, both physical and mental. I appreciate that I am free to have opportunities to do my work and service in the world, varied as they are. My friends, family, and colleagues are an ongoing source of inspiration and love. To that end, I am also thankful that I am happily partnered, a relatively new grandfather, and living with some degree of safety, though less than it was a month ago. I appreciate the changes in our city and national government and having new people step up into leadership roles and am very hopeful that goodness will (finally) come from this. And I honor those members of our community, city, state, country, and world who also step forward as positive change-agents, willing to risk their creature comforts, even their lives.
I have always believed that to receive gifts both material and non-material from others, one must also find ways to give. I do not believe that this is a quid pro quo: giving is not a full-on gift if it is not pure or is motivated by nefarious and selfish purposes. And so, I am thankful that I have daily opportunities to offer my gifts of time, energy, knowledge, experience, care, love, creativity, and curiosity to others, as this allows me to expand my capacity to be and feel fully human.
Like so many others, I believe and feel that our world, our environment, and our systems and institutions are broken. Our world is not irreparably damaged (not yet), but it is in desperate need of more care in so many ways. What helps to get me up every morning, and work through my days, is the very notion that I have been so privileged in so many ways, and that it is my turn, now and forever, to find ways to appreciate and to give back. I don’t believe I am alone in saying this.
When I question things, when I advocate for change, I ask myself and others not “Why?” but “Why not?” This attitude comes from appreciating that we humans have so much potential, so much hope, so much to give and learn, so why not take all of this on and in? A sincere, personalized “thank you” or some such comment has never, ever, hurt anyone. I encourage us all to find the words and acts that convey gratitude and thanks to those who make a difference in our and others’ lives — don’t wait, as the moment to do so will never be perfect and may not come around again any time soon.
Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.