Friday, November 28, 2014

Virtuous Circles

by Gary Berg-Cross

Thanksgiving is certainly family and togetherness time that is an opportunity for a bit of reflection on values and internalities as grand as gratitude and as considered as kindness.  It is a time to graciously take what we have with gratitude rather than to take good things for granted. And as Richard Dawkins suggest it is a nice opportunity to “teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.”

It seems a bit odd, though that the day after Thanksgiving much is taken for granted and some may be grateful that the local Box Store opens early to allow the externality of charitable shopping that pre-ritualizes the winter present season of gifting.  

Our market system has found a way to take some inward feelings of kindness and the generous impulse to give more than we have and expresses these as ritualized, wrapped presents.  It’s probably not the largely solitary behavior without expression of thanks that William Arthur Ward was thinking of when he said:

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.

Nor is it the connection that Henry Van Dyke made between the kindness-gratitude-thanksgiving trilogy when he hypothesized that:

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.

Family and friends set around the table are a nice way to spark action on feelings received kindness. It affords an opportunity to rekindle each
others kindness flames and reflect on those who in the past have contributed to our kindness flames. Such virtuous circles can parent many good things and well on the wise path to the Confucian practice that:

To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.

All the more reason then in today’s times to think a bit more broadly and inclusively about thoughtful generosity reflecting kin kindness. To paraphrase Tom Stoppard, the generosity between kin can apply not only
to our extended family but inclusively to our neighbors, our village and globally beyond. After all we are the beneficiaries of exceptional American resources and its people's historical, collective generosity. With a global view we can hope, if not expect, some inclusive generosity like immigration reform and the virtuous fires it sparks for those who were not born here but seek its kindness.

There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.

Nathaniel Branden

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