Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Giving Thanks

I drive by a church every day whose digital sign rotates inspirational and informational messages. One in particular always catches my attention:

 "Give Thanks. It could be worse." Seems like a weird way to get people to be grateful--reminding them that their lives are not as bad as they possibly could be. Not sure it works for me. In fact, I think sometimes it makes me kind of angry. Like I'm being taunted by a sign. A church sign, at that. 

When times get tough, is it supposed to make me feel better to know that someone is more miserable than me? There's got to be a better way to get me to do this than to say "It could be worse." Perhaps there was a twitter-esque character limitation involved. As it stands, it's just depressing. It might as well say, "Yes we know you hate your life, but there are plenty of things that could happen to make you hate it even more. So stop whining. No one cares."

I guess I do see the point, though. Just like (as Ben Folds says) there's always someone cooler than you, there's also always someone worse off than you. Remembering this is valuable, right? But it's not all that easy to do. Why is that? I have tons of things to be thankful for. Why do I let the tiny stuff--annoying co-workers, the pressures of my job, obnoxious family members--get to me? Every second I spend thinking negative thoughts is a second of my life wasted. Wouldn't it be better to think about all the good things? Or to remind myself that there are Americans starving, out of work, terminally ill, and dying on the battlefield? That's all the sign is really trying to get me to think about, I suppose. 

But are Americans equipped for this kind of compassion? Here comes the naysayer (realist?) in me, but I tend to think not. Keeping it in perspective takes a bit of selflessness and empathy. Putting others ahead of ourselves is just not something we do well here. It's not the American way. I'm not very old, but was it ever? If it was, wouldn't more people be concerned with the fact that millions of children, through no fault of their own, are entrenched in poverty, wallowing in failing schools, and destined to be trapped in this cycle? I could go on with similar questions, but I think you get my point.

So sure, we should give thanks. And yes, it most definitely could be worse. But the sign misses the mark. Maybe the negativity of the word "worse" is to blame. Maybe it asks the impossible. Maybe it's a challenge. Well it's a challenge I'll take. I'll try to give a little more thanks, give a little less grief, be happier for what I have, and keep in mind those with less. I'll let you know how it turns out. How hard could it be?


Anonymous said...

The sign is more likely saying - Be thankful to God, that He gave his ONLY son to die for your sins, by hanging no less and being nailed gruesomely to a cross.

So you are living and full of sin, but remembering the WORSE, Jesus's Death in reality can make you feel better, because you know his death allows you to go to heaven.

That is for those who believe.

B.C. said...

I suppose. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of the sign with its surroundings. There's got to be a more uplifting way to send that message in a area as run down as this one.

Chuck Hatt said...

Oh yuck. Anonymous just passed on "God's Love". Words yes, actions no.

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