Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanks Forgiving

I was thinking to get this post up before Thanksgiving, but, alas, I was preoccupied. I then thought to save this, and maybe do it next year... but I am not one to pay too much attention to what calendars or clocks say I should be doing. Heehehe.  

So, here we go, a look at one of America's holidays with the highest level of cognitive dissonance... and a somewhat more personal take on the concepts of thanks and forgiveness.

I am sure most of you who have lived in the U.S. know a little something about what Thanksgiving is all about, but for the sake of my international friends:

In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, and it became an official Federal holiday in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."  

The feast at Plymouth was unique because the Pilgrims there invited a Native American, Squanto (a Patuxent who resided with the Wampanoag tribe) who had taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn, and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English during travels in England). Additionally, the Wampanoag leader Massasoit had donated food stores to the fledgling colony during the first winter, when supplies brought from England were insufficient.

It is commonly said that because the Pilgrims didn't know the bounties of New World food, they had to learn about things like pumpkin, squash, potatoes, turkey and the like from the Indians... and the "thanks" of this holiday is thus not only due to "the beneficent father," but to the native people who kept them from starving. Therefore, it is traditional that these "new" foods are the ones eaten on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Dinner
The story goes that Squanto invited the rest of the tribe with him, figuring it was normal to do so... and that it was a rather tense situation, with the Pilgrims not wanting to break bread with the Indians. This, in spite of the fact that the Wampanoag brought plenty of food with them (enough to feed everybody a few times over).  

Naturally, there are many versions of this tale, and it is basically an apocryphal event at this point. What we can say, however, is that the three tribes in the region (Patuxent, Pequot & Wampanoag) were all made functionally extinct within a relatively short time from this "First Thanksgiving." The famed Pequot Massacre at Mystic, Connecticut is a fine example of how the settlers gave thanks to their gracious native hosts. Many people believe the holiday of Thanksgiving actually comes from the settlers giving thanks for having slaughtered 700 Indians in a single day.

I don't want to paint this as a totally black and white situation. There is a lot one can say about the Pequot War, and it is true that the English had other tribes of Native Americans on their side. The Mohawk in particular were crucial in destroying the Pequot. (They were repaid for this aid by having a quarter of a million of their own number murdered by their "allies" eventually.)  

At any rate, the fact is that few people actually think about Native Americans on Thanksgiving (if ever), and that the modern holiday is basically an excuse to pig out on turkey and pumpkin pie before rushing off to the Black Friday sales for the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Walmart Opening on Black Friday
When I explained all of this to a European friend who asked me about our peculiar American holiday, she immediately said that the holiday should be called "Thanks Forgiving," and I agreed... mentally jotting down the note to write this as a blog post.  This is because, for me, it is clear that the forgiveness that people have received from people they have wronged is a truly grand and magnanimous gift.  

I think the recognition of this gift should be the focus of the holiday, actually.  

Seeing as Thanksgiving fell on the transition of the first & second nights of Hannukah (Festival of Lights) this year, an event which is fairly rare (despite talk of thousands of years until it happens again, Thanksgivikah will at least not happen until 2070 if both calendars stay the same)... I figure this is as good a time as any to shed some light on this holiday, and what it stands for.  

So, let us go deeper, and look at true forgiveness... as something to be thankful for.  

Giving Thanks For Forgiving

It is difficult for most people to look at this objectively.  To acknowledge that you have not only hurt another, but profited greatly from this act--and (even more difficult), that if the situation were reversed, you would probably not have been so forgiving--THIS is a thing that we should be reflecting on. It is, admittedly, hard to engage in this kind of reflection, though.

How do you thank someone for something like that?

Thanking the Universe for bringing a harvest, a victory, or some other bounty to your people seems pale in comparison. After all, that is what the Universe does. It is simply being itself when it provides the sustenance that it always has (more or less).  I am not saying that this is not worthy of thanks... just that the kind of forgiveness that a people who have been the victim of genocide, slavery, and wholesale robbery of their land give to their assailants is a gift of another level.  

To forgive the unforgivable, and not seek revenge... while not even being appreciated for the gift being given... to be treated as subhuman, and spit on while you are clearly taking the higher road... this is special.

I have trouble imagining the Europeans being so generous of spirit if things had been reversed, and it was the Indians coming to their home continent and killing off 96% of them. Imagine if the Jews had tried to exterminate the Germans. Or, if the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch et. al. were forced to spend 400 years in slavery in Africa. Truth be told, these people are very quick to prosecute, to the fullest extent of their laws, anyone caught trespassing on the land they stole... especially the people they stole it from 

Somehow, it is always expected that the people who lost the most should do all the forgiving.

You don't see banks forgiving debt, or shops forgiving hungry shoplifters. Even on Thanksgiving, people were being tossed out of their homes to live on the streets. Banks are too big to fail, but family homes are on fire-sale.  

Not only is forgiveness anathema (apparently) to the materialists in our culture, they won't even give people a bit of breathing room to make good on their debts!  This, despite the fact that all property rights in the USA are basically writs of stolen property. Even if the land was transferred legally ever since, there can be no original "bill of sale." The land was stolen in blood and treachery, and passed on with this baggage.  

Our law states that possession of stolen property is a crime... even if you are unaware that it was stolen... and even if it passed through numerous hands on its way to you. If you buy a stolen car from a used car lot, you can still be held liable... even if you paid a fair price for the vehicle.

But the victims here are not calling for blood... or even reparations (for the most part). It certainly says something about the character of a people that they can actually do what their oppressors claim to idealize, but never even try to do... turn the other cheek. Especially in light of the fact that this is not explicitly part of the religiou traditions of these people, and Christians are admonished to do so... by their savior no less.  

Despite being the most vocally Christian of all Americans, residents of the Southern States are far more likely to still be angry about losing their right to keep and abuse slaves... than the slaves they once kept are at them!? The South is still home to large numbers of KKK and white supremacists who have not forgiven The North for winning The Civil War (what they call the War Of Northern Aggression)... let alone the Native Americans and the African Americans... for simply existing.

To be fair, racism and bigotry can be found all over America. There are areas of this country where people never see black people except on TV! In the South, for better or worse, people must learn to coexist somewhat, and live in relative proximity to the people they don't like. Some places in the States, actually attract white supremacists and neo-nazis because by living there, they never have to see a brown face or engage with people of a different faith.

Not to be a bummer, but we have to look at this honestly.

It is not an exaggeration to think of the Native American Genocide as a Holocaust. In fact, the term "Final Solution" was not coined by the Nazis. It was Indian Affairs Superintendent, Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada's Adolph Eichmann, who in April 1910 plotted out the planned murder of the First Nations People (as they are known in Canada) to take care of the "Indian problem," and gave it the name. 

The sad truth is that, of the indigenous children forced to go to "residential schools" in Canada, (according to government records) nearly half of them died or disappeared as if they never existed. In 1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), reported to the department that between 1894 and 1908, mortality rates at some residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 30% to 60% over five years. These statistics did not become public until 1922, when Bryce, who was no longer working for the government, published The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921. 

The forced sterilizations of Native women that were conducted then, continued well into the late 1970's, as unimaginable as that is.

The fact that we don't see Native Americans becoming suicide bombers, or declaring some kind of intifada, speaks volumes about their greatness of spirit... or the success of the policy to stamp them out and break their spirit, perhaps. Regardless, we all have much to learn from them... not just about turning the other cheek, or forgiving grievous wrong, but about honoring and cherishing the Earth.  

Based on how poorly we have treated the planet since, the world might have been better off if the genocide was reversed.* You certainly would not see clear-cutting of forests. oceans being emptied of fish, gigantic islands of trash, mountaintop removal, fracking, oil spills or climate change in a world run by the Native Americans. Say what you will, but I am sure no one would be lighting their water on fire in that version of the USA.

(*note: I am being purposefully hyperbolic and provocative here. I want to make it 100% clear that I absolutely stand against any kind of genocide whatsoever, and this is not a topic to make light of. Nor do I wish to perpetuate any anti-European bias. What-if scenarios like this are best left to sci-fi movies and TV shows IMHO.)
Native Tribes Often Welcomed Runaway Slaves
To wrap this up, I just want to bring it home a bit... make this a little more personal.  If you read my last post, you will know that I had a dramatic series of events unfold in my own life recently. Some heartbreaking betrayals, and bitter attacks which forced me to let go of quite a bit of what I had built up since the millennium, and took a hefty toll on my health and general well-being. In short, I had to (once again) start over after losing 90% of my worldly possession... to reboot my life entirely. 

It would have been easy--normal even--for me to be angry and upset at the former friends, and fake smiling enemies who professed love to my face, and enjoyed my hospitality and generosity... while surreptitiously plotting my downfall and ruin.  (I promise you, I am not exaggerating this, and I am not a "woe is me" victim-type person.)

But, I don't really want to talk about this. My point is that I had the feeling from the outset of the tragedy that forgiving and forgetting was the only possible path forward. As I got away from the situation, and the immediate drama and tragic intensity was receding, it became more and more obvious that any energy I wasted on regret and anger, let alone thoughts of retribution or vengeance were, not only wasted, but detrimental to me.   

The old adage that forgiveness is less for the forgiven than it is for the one forgiving, is true. It is you who has to live with the feelings of anger. Hatred is poisonous, and it destroys your soul, sours your joys, and leeches the technicolor vibrancy from your entire world. Carrying it in your heart does little to hurt the people who wronged you, but does inestimable damage to your own person... both to your physical being and to your inner peace.  

Even if you manage to inflict some equal or proportionate retribution onto your foes... it doesn't bring you joy; it is a hollow Pyrrhic victory that doesn't even begin to fill the void that hatred has carved into your heart.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, gives the giver at least as much as it gives the receiver. I know it seems counter intuitive. Letting people off the hook for their heinous actions, and absolving them of the justified consequences of those actions seems to be clearly of greater worth than simply not having to suffer the poison of hate--that such actions caused in the first place--but it is not so.

In our materialistic society, we see everything as having its bottom line in the bottom line. Thus, the person who gets out with the net financial gain (or the smallest loss) wins.  

But that is not what matters in truth.  

A bit more money here or there... even a great deal of money and property... makes little difference in terms of how you feel.  And, in the end, everything comes down to this.  How do you feel when you wake up in the morning, and look at yourself in the mirror?  How quickly and peacefully can you fall asleep at night? How often do you smile and laugh each day?  How well do you love... and how well are you loved?

These are things that matter, and coincidentally, things that money can not buy. You can be a billionaire and still be suicidal.

Life is not a game of Monopoly. Everything you desire, everything you ever buy, all that you work hard to attain... these are all means to an end. The end, is that you become happy.

You study hard to get good grades, so you can get a fancy degree, so you can get a good job, so you can make a good income, so you can buy things that will help you attract a mate, so you can settle down and have kids, and raise them in comfort... and so on, and so on... all because you think that somewhere along the way, these things will make you happy and satisfied... that you will be fulfilled.  

Of course, none of these things, in and of themselves, can give you that... and certainly not if you harbor hatred in your heart.  

Forgiveness, on the other hand, can give you directly what all those other things can not. It can give you peace.  

By some ineffable, mystical means, the great gift of forgiveness that you bestow on your fellow (if misguided) man... comes back to you transformed, and in spades. You give up your anger, and you receive peace. And, peace is more valuable than anything you can possess.

Trust me.

So, yeah... Thanks Forgiving.

Give thanks that you have the strength to forgive... and that others have had that strength as well. Give thanks that an "eye for an eye" has not made the entire world blind.

Be well, my friends... and even those who choose to call me enemy.


  1. You seem to be right when you say " The forgiveness that people have received from the people they have wronged is a truly grand and magnanimous gift. ...this gift should be the focus of the holiday". I agree and inspire myself with your words " forgiving and forgetting was the only possible path forward"

    When you talk about how do you feel and what it really matters ... sounds the truly connection of mind spirit and body.

    Now, when you sentence "The world might have been better off if the genocide was reversed" you might be commiting a critical mistake, a genocide would not make the world a better place, and check, natives were no good in environmental management (regarding today advances in monitoring and valuations), once nomads, they used the natural resources of a place till the end, and then move to the next field. But see, I cite this to make it clear a great point at your post. This is about the natural capital of the planet and its raw genetic information, in which humans are embedded as organisms. Natural capital is studied by the sciences and converted through technology in intermediate mechanisms. These in turn are the tools, skills and energy processes and materials that represent the built capital and human capital, in combination with the productive capacity of the economy that systematically ignores the incalculable amount of investment from the previous level (the natural capital itself). Manage, enhance, distribute, maintain and use these intermediate mechanisms should be an objective of policy, economies aimed by all. The human economy is within a network structure where the foundation is done by end mechanisms through natural resources and the apex are the final consequences desirable in themselves, as the excellence to be achieved.

    But this definition of excellence is desired complex, especially for Western cultures, because it is the quality not the quantity of these intangible priorities that are supported by the material system.

    Can dissociate the idea that the purpose of nature is to satisfy human needs, when it sees that the system express no way to make the final consequences without the proper functioning of the natural, economic and social systems considering connections between a point and other.

    Well, to end my comment, indeed, peace is more valuable than anything you can possess.

    1. Thanks for that. <3

      I suppose I should point out that I was being hyperbolic and provocative with the whole "reversed genocide" quip. I should probably make that more clear, as I would never support any genocide of any sort... and I am certain that Native Americans would never have perpetuated one on Europe anyway. It is more the setting for a sci-fi "what it?" or alternate universe story.


      I did say MIGHT, anyway. Anything might be better than anything else, no? (even if the chance is infinitesimal)

      Anyway, really appreciate your thoughtful comment and your thoughts about resources. I am not sure if economics or social systems can be "natural" in the sense we mean it. Obviously, humans are part of nature and what we do is natural, but these are clearly artificial constructs that tend to oppress nature... and for all intents and purposes "artificial" is the opposite of "natural."

      All the best.

    2. OK. I put in a disclaimer. I think it has the proper tone now.

      (J smiles sheepishly and backs out of the room)

  2. My brave and wise friend, your tone with me is always of a healthy debate. Together we go further.


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