The Season of Giving
I am reminded of the saying “naughty or nice,” and I wonder how much of our behavior as a nation has been more “naughty than nice”
-- present company included.
The season of giving and gratitude is upon us, once again, as we think about and remember what’s important to us, what we are thankful for, and how we can show our appreciation toward others. And while I have always reflected upon these thoughts throughout the year, it seems more special as we roll into Thanksgiving, a multitude of religious celebrations including Christmas and the new year.
But this year is uniquely different for obvious reasons. We have been besieged by an enemy that has been far more formidable than any war that has been fought on our soil and that has been the assault of COVID-19. The immersion of this virus has asserted itself into the very fabric of our lives including our behavior. I am reminded of the saying “naughty or nice,” and I wonder how much of our behavior as a nation has been more “naughty than nice” -- present company included.
I thought I knew that we as Americans generally understood what it means to care for one another domestically or abroad. As a country we have been acknowledged for our altruistic deeds worldwide as a great nation. France gifted the Statue of Liberty in friendship and has become a universal symbol for freedom and democracy. The statue is the Roman liberty goddess, Libertas. She holds a torch above her head in her right hand, and in her left hand, a tablet inscribed with July 4, 1776. A broken leg iron is at her feet as she moves forward, observing the abolition of slavery. Our Statue of Liberty became an icon of freedom and also seen as a symbol of welcoming immigrants to our country. And yes, I am all too painfully aware that our history is riddled with horrible injustices to people of color and sexual orientation but we always seem to try and pivot by redeeming ourselves by putting our best foot forward as a nation. Unlike Libertas, we don’t seem to be moving our foot forward very well right now.
Invariably, it takes a tragedy to help demonstrate how we can move forward…or not. Take, for example, two mothers who lose a child to a drunk driver. One chooses to fall apart while the other chooses to create a nonprofit organization that helps to combat drunk driving. The last ten months have given me pause to reflect upon how we as a nation are moving through this world pandemic. We have shown in a number of ways that we do not have the capacity to care for one another like by simply wearing a mask. More Americans, than I would like to see, have protested that wearing a mask is an infringement on “their constitutional rights.” But it has been evident that wearing a mask helps to diminish the spread of the virus especially to our loved ones and other people who are vulnerable. We have watched a very televised virus ravage our country because wearing a mask has become so politicized.
To date over 1.5 million have died across seven continents. The United States, an industrial power, leads the mortality rate at 18% (279,867 deaths) followed by Brazil (11.6%), India (9.2%), and Mexico (7.2%) respectively. The remaining of the numbers belong to the rest of the world. To be frank, our numbers are sobering when I recognize that we lead the world in deaths. That’s not how I would define good leadership nor does it convey the biblical term “love thy neighbor.”
I have chatted with my friends and colleagues about trying to unpack the notion that many people feel that mask wearing is not necessary because “there is no virus…it’s a hoax”! For example, I have seen signs where people have compared being asked to wear a mask to slavery. Yes, such insanity rages, regarding the people who say and believe that this is not real. Well, the numbers don’t lie: a person is dying from COVID-19 every 30 seconds each and every day now.
But what’s happening is that a dichotomy of thought has emerged with the “non-mask wearers” are not wearing masks and the “mask wearers” are condemning those who don’t wear masks. We are becoming more and more divided, and more persistent, in our “who’s right versus who’s wrong” to the point we have lost friends and family members to this virus between real deaths and robust perspectives. I’ve heard people say, “don’t wear a mask…there will be less people voting for 45!” or “I hate saying this but maybe these people will learn a lesson…I don’t want to wish harm to anyone but…” And then we see resistance fueled with red faced anger of the non-mask wearers who defy store policies by threatening people with their lives. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t know about you but I most certainly have not liked some of the conversations I have participated in or shared my two cents whether it’s by phone, zoom or Facebook. It’s that icky feeling you get after getting yourself real dirty. You don’t feel good about yourself. You believe that all you need is a good shower but, in the end, you still feel the same given the values that you believe in. Both sides are guilty of not believing we both have a duty of care and responsibility to one another no matter what the challenges are.
Barbara Ehrenreich talks about in her book Nickel and Dimed, how easy it is to know our strengths but much more difficult to understand our weaknesses. Perhaps if we did a deep dive into ourselves that truly deconstructed our own behavior and discovered why we do what we do and why we say what we say. I teach leadership to college students and one of the first principles of understanding leadership is about understanding yourself. Any extraordinary leader will tell you that the first hurdle to surpass is to understand yourself so that you can begin to understand your leadership potential. And, it is true; many of us do want to know who we are. This is indicative of the many different types of self-assessment instruments and surveys that are out there, like the more popular Myers Briggs and True Colors, or to everyday tools such as palm reading, astrology charting, zodiac premonitions we read in the newspaper, and even crystal balls and séances. We want to know so we can better understand ourselves and those around us. But what many people miss is that true understanding of self requires a personal journey. And, oftentimes that journey may help us find some characteristics about ourselves that make us feel uncomfortable. But personal journey’s lead to self-discovery, which means a positive change in ourselves.
I know I want to be a part of the change that makes a difference. Now is not the time to hold my neighbor in disdain because they have not had access to the resources and experiences I have had. And in writing this blog I tried very hard to not be judgmental in what I was trying to convey here (did I say something about “insanity rages”?!). But, I also know that the reality is that there are millions of people out there who simply care more for themselves than for their neighbor. My hope is that I am able to listen better and be less judgmental, be kinder, and find ways to support and help others through these times. Ultimately as human beings, we need to better learn and understand our own hearts so we can take better care of one another.
So, ‘tis the season – a time of giving and gratitude and a time to celebrate one of the greatest gifts: life. I believe that people care and want to ensure the safety and well-being of their neighbors. It’s what makes us whole. It’s what makes us good neighbors. It’s what makes us a good nation. Let’s find our own sense of renewal and joy for the new year. Yes, there is a pandemic and I’m not trying to sound hokey but I’m not going to let it confine my attitude and most importantly my behavior toward my neighbor any longer. The season reminds us how we should be now and all along life’s journey. I know there are lots of people out there who need to change. But perhaps change needs to begin right here with me. This is my gift to myself: reflect on me, be a better me and wear a damn mask!
Jocelyn D. Briddell, Ed.D. is our anchor blogger. She continues to provide thought provoking posts and invites others to challenge our ways of thinking as well.