Thanksgiving is fast approaching! I don't know about you, but I find this time of year to be so sweet and rich in spirit! People seem a little lighter, kinder and more thoughtful; exhibiting traits many aspire to maintain all year long, but seldom do. Now, while I enjoy the modern holiday Thanksgiving has come to be here in the States (family, football, food? Yes, please!) I also remember the dark parts surrounding its history, where Native Americans exhibited extreme generosity and were repaid with incredible cruelty.
(Original art by Tribbey Harmon)
Obviously the hardship we caused didn't all happen at once, certainly not on the first Thanksgiving, but in our country's early years we did systematically uproot and force droves of their people to relocate -- with measures like the Indian Removal Act of 1830 -- before finally recognizing their rights in 1924 with the Indian Citizenship Act. Today, many of us focus on the wonder of our fun, festive and delicious holiday while letting the tragic history of the Native American people drift off into the ether. Similarly, I fear far too many people focus on the gifts in their individual lives, perhaps unaffected by the plight of others in the community and world around them.
It is a beautiful thing that the standard of living for even the poorest people in our country is a much better fate than those in many other countries. I can't help but wonder if because of this though, people are quick to forget that struggle, oppression and stigmatization do exist in our communities -- and in substantial amounts. This social worker believes most any individual is capable of bringing themselves out of even the most distressing of situations, so this is not to say anyone needs "saving" necessarily. Though some people are just so beaten down that they've lost their voice and need to be spoken for; people too busy working several jobs in order to feed their families to have time or energy to engage in the political process or advocate for laws which might benefit them.
I'm not saying we're a heartless country! Often as a result of the kindness of strangers, impossible things happen everywhere, every day; and hopefully there is no modern federal or state law as egregious as the Indian Removal Act. However, there is a distinct possibility that laws exist -- or in the process of being passed -- which you might find appalling. Did you know that up until 2010, here in Florida we had a 33 year-old ban on gay adoption? Yes, in the same year we had 5,011 children waiting to be adopted in the Florida foster care system, we had a law (the Florida Adoption Act) saying, "No person may adopt if that person is a homosexual." Thankfully this was deemed unconstitutional and an appeals court stated that "gay people and heterosexuals make equally good parents." This is just one of the many faces of oppression.
So, some of you may be thinking, "Allison, there are a lot of problems in the world. What do you want me to do about it?" Well, you'll be happy to know that I don't have all the answers (thank goodness for that!) but I do have some ideas. For starters, we're all still very fresh off the election cycle, were you among the many who got some "fire in your belly" over one candidate / issue or another? If so, I would encourage you to keep it and perhaps let it drive you to participate in the political process on a more regular basis. Elections don't just happen once every four years, guys! Furthermore, most of the meat and potatoes of our system happens in between elections when most of us aren't paying attention.
Listen guys, we're all in this together. In a way, we're kind of like a bunch of kids playing a board game. As a country, a few people are making the rules which the rest of us have to play by. We were given some guidelines -- but if you can believe it -- left unchecked, people in charge of making rules might be inclined to make ones that primarily benefit themselves. Unless, that is, more people were to get involved in "the game." I think if we as a society were to put a fraction of the energy we currently spend on things like Facebook, into real-world action -- like taking part in the legislative process -- we could have a legitimate (r?)evolution on our hands.
I don't say any of this to deflate you -- so I hope you don't feel that way now -- I want to lift you up and encourage you to help lift others up! These days, I feel very blessed to be professionally counseling people on how to improve their mindsets, emotions and lives; and you want to know what my first, most frequent and best advice often is? Start small. People who are not familiar with legal terminology might not be aware that to convict someone of a crime, a component needed is called "Mens Rea," meaning "Guilty Mind." Before one does an ill deed, it begins in the mind. By the same token, any good deed acted, must also begin in the mind. If we wish for our world to be different, I believe that we must first change our perceptions: how we perceive ourselves, others and our individual and societal responsibilities to care for each other.
As we wrap up this year and start to make our plans to attend parties, be with loved ones, and spend a nice chunk of change on gifts, I encourage you to reflect. Can you relate to those who are hungry, homeless, or oppressed? What about those who are simply lonely or lacking? How do you feel about those individuals and families within our communities for whom these struggles are a daily way of life? I invite you to seriously consider these questions.
Afterward, one might wonder how one translate empathy and/or a desire to help into action. When is the last time you examined your idea of what "service" means? It can look any number of ways, probably a lot different than you might think. Did you know that more people volunteer in places like food kitchens on Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other days of the year? If this is the first thing that came to your mind, instead of something like that, why not invite someone with no family in town to join you in your home or make some other small gesture of kindness to someone locally who could really use it?
As for what service means the rest of the year, you don't need to give all your possessions away and move to Africa (I mean -- if you have the ability -- go nuts!) For most of us though, I say just ask yourself, "Is there anything I could do to make the world a little better?" Such as smiling at a few more strangers or being a little kinder and more understanding during the daily grind. If you want something more concrete, are you able to donate funds or time to a local agency? Or perhaps, could you play a greater role in the political and legislative processes? A pastor once told me, "If you feel the call in your heart to serve, you either have to answer it, or ignore it." Please answer the call.