Well, it’s that time of year again – where I become a bah humbug, voice crying in the wilderness against the naked materialism of our country running roughshod over giving thanks and time with family and friends.
The holidays are full of expectations, hope and demands – do we really need to make it even worse with “BUY BUY BUY!”? It’s easy to get caught up in the music and movies and expectations of cheerful children and loving families and romance realized – of joy and peace and bliss. But, let’s be honest, that’s not reality for most of us. And it’s definitely not the way to live a life that thrives.
This Thanksgiving, I would like to focus on two pure souls who show us the path to thriving. First, Fred Rogers, who in Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, said “It’s not what you have but what you do with what you have.”
Now, there was no one more committed to hope and joy than Mr. Rogers! But he was always able to temper his emotions with a non-saccharine dose of reality and understanding. I have found this philosophy to be true in my own experiences as well – I am sure we all know someone in our community who barely has two pennies to rub together but is the most joyful, generous person you know. They take in stray children and animals and managed to produce casseroles and desserts out of simple ingredients. Everyone loves being around these people. They are sought out – they are featured in local news and praised by the community.
There are also people who have been blessed with financial success but stay miserly and emotionally stunted. Choosing to sit down and make a home where you find yourself is up to you. This is the theme of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is why it has maintained popularity long after the other Victorian Christmas ghost stories have faded away. We can see ourselves in each of those characters and we are presented with the choice – who are you going to choose to be? Not choosing leads to becoming Jacob Marley by default.
Poet Maurice Manning says, “I’m asking questions. It’s a means to wonder. Finding the answer isn’t the point. Expressing the wonder is the point.”
Pondering, wondering and asking questions can lead down a couple paths, but the best, most productive path is when these things lead you down the path to being that person who takes in strays and feeds your neighbors – and considering everyone in your state, your country and the world your neighbor. It leads to getting involved in non-profit organizations, religious communities and even participating in local, state and national government.
If you are passionate about an issue but only rail about it to family and friends at Thanksgiving dinner or on social media you are not contributing to your community. Thriving isn’t talking, it’s action. This isn’t a political ad for one party or another – it can happen in any and every political ideology and party. It is not the holy domain of democrats or republicans.
One example of Mr. Rogers’ philosophy playing out in real life is my friend and mentor U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. His deep Catholic faith and strong family upbringing led him to become a missionary in Honduras where he built homes for the poor. Through that experience he realized if he went to law school he could help even more people in very real ways. As a young lawyer in Richmond, Virginia he kept working on affordable housing and landlord issues for low-income clients. He started going to city council meetings to learn about the issues and raise concerns. He eventually was encouraged to run for city council and did. He then became Mayor of Richmond and began a long journey of public service. Through it all, he has been able to maintain his reasons for service, keep his “origin story” in mind and keep is focus on serving the people of Virginia. He also understands that his gifts are limited and the best way to do the most with what he has is to partner with others – both in his own party and “across the aisle.” When he was running for Vice President, the most common quote by Republican Senators was “Tim Kaine is the nicest guy in the Senate…I wish I could attack him but I just can’t, there’s nothing to attack!”
Whether your life leads you to politics, business, teaching, nonprofit work or raising your family – how would your life look and the lives of those around you if everyone said something similar about you? What if you were the nicest guy/gal everyone knew? What if you focused on what you could do and what you have instead of what others have?