Gratitude is Built on Freedom
Thanksgiving, the watchword of this beautiful holiday, is built on the choices made by those who came before us to preserve our nation and to give us a choice in our own time.
As we’ve headed into the Thanksgiving weekend and all the wonderful things it can bring, we must remember that gratitude is impossible without freedom of choice. We often act otherwise when we talk about the things that we are grateful for, like family and other blessings, in other contexts. But people who believe in the truth-with-a-capital-T should be especially aware of how important freedom of choice is to feeling gratitude.
See, gratitude is not the opposite of hatred or dismissal. It is the opposite of taking something for granted. Ingratitude is the miserable sister of apathy. When we expect or demand to get something, we can’t feel true gratitude when we do get it. It was not freely given and cannot be appreciated as such.
Take the classic example of family. I, for one, have a large family. Both of my parents are still alive, as are four of my brothers, a sister-in-law, and a niece. Add in all my cousins, and we have sizable family reunions, filling so much space that we have to sprawl across several rooms of the host’s house. Try to fit everyone in one room? Standing room only.
My wife’s side of the family is the same way. Her grandmother was one of fourteen children, all of whom are still alive—so their reunions fill her great-uncle’s entire house. That little house has been added to over the years, but it can’t keep up with the increase in relatives. Every time we visit, I have to remind myself to look down when I step to make sure I’m not tripping over people’s feet. When it comes to family, I have much to be grateful for.
But why is gratitude the appropriate emotion? Some people approach family as if it’s a requirement rather than a blessing, an expectation rather than a gift. If those people feel gratitude for their families, it reveals a chink in their otherwise-expressed worldview. See, family is by no means a guarantee.
Many people have no family. Either their families have passed away, or it is deeply unsafe for them to interact with their living family for one reason or another. Each moment we have of joy in our families is wonderful, but without the fact that it could be otherwise, it would be expected, cheapened by regularity. We should never allow ourselves to fall for that trap. Every loved one is a blessing that may not have been—and for that, we should be endlessly grateful.
The same is true for our nation. We have been blessed to live in the greatest country in the world—yes, really—and to be among the wealthiest people who have ever lived. Once, centuries ago, when the first Thanksgiving began, the life expectancy of a European was in the mid-30s. Why? It wasn’t what some people make it out to be, that everyone who was 35 dropped down dead from old age. It was because a devastating number of children perished before they reached adulthood. I lost my brother when he wasn’t even a day old, and it was an immeasurable tragedy for my family and our community. In 1621, when Thanksgiving began, that would have been a story that most families could tell. We are blessed in many ways that are measurable, discernible, if we but care to look.
Yet, so many people take our position for granted. Of course, America is the greatest country in the world! Of course, we’re wonderful! They never bother to consider that in relation to how hard most of the world, most of history, has had it. We should stop and be grateful for our country’s prosperity. It could have been otherwise.
There were uncountable times in American history when just a few people acting differently could have changed the course of our future, setting up for us, the living, a worse life than we now enjoy. The Founders could have acquiesced to the yoke of British tyranny. Lincoln could have failed to balance Founding principles and the needs of the union, making secession permanent. During the Cold War, we might have chosen to allow communism and state control into our lives rather than fight it as we had fought right-wing totalitarianism in Germany. These and myriad other choices would have left us less prosperous, less free.
We have much to be grateful for, in both our personal lives and as a nation. We should remember that these things were not given to us as entitlements for being born but are ours because of the choices we and others make every day. Thanksgiving, the watchword of this beautiful holiday, is built on freedom.
Jacob Nestle is a Master’s student at Ashland University studying American history and government, having previously received a Bachelor’s degree from that same institution in political Science and philosophy. He currently serves as Donor Outreach Officer at Students for Liberty in Ohio and as Politics Editor at The Vital Center. @JN4Liberty
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