I hope US readers had safe travels and are enjoying the day with friends and family.
Thanksgiving has become a day of food and sports bacchanalia for many Americans. It is too often forgotten that only half of the passengers of the Mayflower lived through the first winter in Plymouth harbor. Ironically, it is probably closest to its historical roots, a day of gratitude for surviving brutal conditions, for those who are enduring physical or financial hardships but manage to get some respite and personal cheer today.
Yet our success-oriented culture too often turns away from those in the midst of personal struggles; it’s the shadow side of the insistent American “can do” attitude. After all, too many business success courses and New Age self help books proclaim that if you only think the right thoughts and project an upbeat attitude, you can “manifest” your heart’s desires. This bizarre magical thinking is a cultural neurosis writ large, and it further marginalizes those who need help but are afraid to ask for it.
I’m obviously lucky. On my father’s side of the family, I come from old and completely undistinguished Yankee stock (generations of fishermen and farmers). One of his retirement projects, a meticulously researched genealogy, ascertained that we have at least 7 ancestors who came over on the Mayflower (we could claim 11 if you believe the Mormon genealogy for one branch of the family, but he was convinced that that it was actually descended from a half-black freed slave who married a white woman and was the first settler of Bailey Island, Maine).
I was able to get a very good education and work at top firms. Even so, I’ve suffered serious career and financial reversals and have some appreciation for what it feels like to have survival worries. So I hope those of you that are in a position to do so take some steps over the holiday season to reach out in some way to the less fortunate (and that doesn’t necessarily mean writing a check to a charity; it may, for instance, be giving someone out of work a job lead or short-term gig to burnish his resume).
Oh, and for the record, we’re having duck here in Alabama.