On the heels of the most divisive presidential election in our lifetime, the rage this year is offering and receiving advice on how to survive a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones who may not share our political point of view.
If this is your biggest problem today, consider yourself lucky. Thanksgiving is the apex of the practice of counting blessings. You can start by being thankful you have loved ones to argue with. There are plenty of families going through the heartache of experiencing a first Thanksgiving without a husband, a child, a grandparent.
Someone always has it worse than you do. That’s not just hyperbole, it’s math. The fact that we live in America puts us in the highest percentile of people with access to clean water and adequate shelter — things so basic that they hardly register as blessings.
Comparing ourselves to developing countries isn’t the most elegant starting point to contemplate our good fortune, but the fact remains that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. Whatever flaws the recent election exposed or reaffirmed, there are many people worldwide who would give anything to live in a country where elections are held at all — much less those that result in a peaceful transition of power.
Yes, there are protesters out there, but no one was jailed or tortured for voting a particular way. We can be thankful that we all get a chance to pick our leader without fear of retaliation. Instead of condemning protesters for not lining up behind a new president, we can celebrate that we have the freedom to express our views on the outcome without fearing for out lives.
There are innumerable ways to cultivate gratitude and they don’t always involve invoking the plight of the less fortunate. One of our favorites is from the New York Times, which offered readers “A Thanksgiving Toast” in 2009 which celebrated the concept of the unexpected. It seems particularly appropriate in the wake of an election outcome few people predicted.
“... it’s worth raising a glass to be thankful ... for all the ways that life interrupts and renews itself without warning.
“What would our lives look like if they held only what we’d planned? Where would our wisdom or patience — or our hope — come from?
“It will never cease to surprise how the condition of being human means we cannot foretell with any accuracy what next Thanksgiving will bring. We can hope and imagine, and we can fear. But when next Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll have to take account again, as we do today, of how the unexpected has shaped our lives. That will mean accounting for how it has enriched us, blessed us, with suffering as much as with joy.
“There is the short-term future, when there will be room for seconds. Then there is the longer term, a time for blossoming and ripening, for new friends, new family, new love, new hope. Most of what life contains comes to us unexpectedly after all. It is our job to welcome it and give it meaning. So let us toast what we cannot know and could not have guessed, and to the unexpected ways our lives will merge in Thanksgivings to come.”