On Giving and Taking Thanks

About three years ago my wife, Marie, and I had lunch at Farrell’s in Pearlridge Center. Just after we ordered, we noticed a young family being seated near us in the middle of the restaurant. The parents were accompanied by a girl of about 8, a boy of 6 or so, and a baby in his “terrible twos” who was put in a high chair between the two children. The kids immediately assumed helpful roles in tending to the baby with help and guidance from their mother. The overall appearance and deportment of the entire family was exceptional. Even the baby was as good as a two year old could be, mostly due to the attention and care of his siblings who treated him with love, understanding, tolerance, humor, and a bit of gentle discipline under pleasant, calm supervision of their mother. As they ordered, the father, budget in mind, quietly asked the older kids questions like “are you sure you can eat all that?”; “if it isn’t enough, you can order more later”; “why don’t you share an order of fries?”. We were impressed by the children, who responded with thoughtful respect. Throughout the meal, the kids were spontaneous and happy in conversation with their parents and each other and continued to do their part in supervising the two year-old.

I called our waitress over and asked her to combine the family’s bill with ours and to put it on my credit card. I then wrote this note:

Dear Parents,

We are grateful to you for the pleasant experience of watching the leadership you showed in the interaction with your family at lunch today. It is a pleasure to pay for your lunch. You are helping to build The American Dream for generations to come. We know that you believe that you are just “doing your duty” but it is a joy to watch you in action. Your work is appreciated. Your children will be builders for eternity.

We asked the restaurant manager to deliver the note in lieu of their bill and not to reveal our identity under any circumstances. We then escaped into the shopping mall. As you might guess, we have never seen the family again and do not expect to.

Since we took that action on impulse, that very night at bedtime, we reviewed in depth why we did it and came up with this:

A. Good families are the root of a good, strong society.

B. Society propels government. A good society produces a good government. A bad one produces tyranny.

C. The American Dream is rooted in our society. We feed from it every day. It is fragile. It requires care and replenishment. It would profit from some creative, productive renewal. Lacking that it will most likely fade away.

D. Accordingly, we are all “takers” in that we use the American Dream to advance our lives. But what goes largely unsaid, thought about, or actually done is the obligation all of us have to be a “maker” as well–that is, we must work to replenish and build an even better Dream. Those parents were doing that and they had no idea that anyone was aware or cared. When they got my note, they were likely happy for the lunch, but the more valuable element was that someone noticed their efforts. After all, they are not good parents by accident. They work hard and with great sacrifice, worry, and concern.

E. We then realized that ours was not “a random act of kindness”. In fact, there were at least six intended positive results:

1. Being so recognized makes the family stronger and promotes more creative leadership and unity.
2. The parents feel much obliged. That means they will look, over time, to make similar recognition to deserving others.
3. They will talk about the experience in the future. This will be a positive influence on their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
4. The family and the restaurant folks FEEL good about the episode.
5. Marie and I FEEL good about every bit of it, now and into the future.
6. Our society is stronger because of the above.

So, what does all of this have to do with Thanksgiving?

In Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, there was an article by Wayne Harada titled “Entertainers share views on why they are thankful.” He quoted 26 of them. All expressed personal enjoyment without a hint of obligation. That seems strange to me because of the influence of my father, who was born 121 years ago. He was wont to say when someone did him a big favor, help, or service, “I am much obliged”. And he meant it. The concepts of obligation and gratitude were a large part of how he lived and spoke. When he owed, he found ways to pay with meaning. Thanks were used in less serious circumstances, like when I took out the family garbage. His philosophy about gratitude are part of what made him strong. He was a quietly competent man who had achieved happiness. That happiness included gratitude to God, his parents and grandparents, the founding fathers of our nation, his employer (Sears, Roebuck and Company) where he enjoyed great success, to my mother, her parents, and too many others to list here. Suffice to say he taught me that gratitude and obligation were joined at the hip.

George Washington once mentioned that Thanksgiving was a time for gratitude to God for our blessings. But where is our corresponding obligation. What is an appropriate way to pay it back?

Here is my take:

Imagine the favors and blessings that we are thankful for as deposits in a bank account. If we do not constantly replenish in obligation what we withdraw in thankfulness and gratitude, we will deplete our reserves. At a minimum, every year must see us contributing as much as we withdraw. But is that really what we want? A zero balance for our society? To make this a better country we need to add more and make that reservoir of obligation grow bigger and better. In doing that, our gratitude gets bigger and better.

WOW! Just think–this is a WIN four times over. First, we pay our debt; second, we make a gift to our generation and the next; third, we benefit our society; and fourth, we set a precedent for future generations.

So, with that in mind, we at Grassroot are honoring the spirit of our obligations and giving thanks for the contributions you have made in supporting our efforts to improve Hawaii over the last year. We will pay it back to society through our commitment to strengthen our cause by doubling the Grassroot Institute active membership over the next 12 months. By doing so, we can better serve you and the rest of Hawaii in advancing individual liberty.

We are much obliged to you for our past successes. Our prayer is that we will be able to earn your gratitude again and again for our work on your behalf. Working together, let’s put twice as much into those obligation accounts than we withdraw. We owe it to the eternal building of a better American Dream.

In summary: In Thanksgiving: Take some; Give much. In gratitude!

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