Giving Thanks, Acting Gratitude

As we approach Thanksgiving in the US, it seems like a good time to revisit the idea of gratitude I wrote about during the most recent Ramadan. The relationship between “gratitude” and “thanks,” seems obvious. Although, as Joe points out in a comment on an earlier post, there is a difference. I think I hint at a way of understanding that difference when I say:

Gratitude, gratefulness, is more than the simple “thank you.” We have relations that are more than transactional. We rely on each other for so many things, and when we do not express gratitude for the things that others do for us daily to allow us to be who we are, then we reduce their humanity and ours. We become our jobs. To be grateful is to say to someone else that “I need(ed) you.”

So gratitude is about giving of ourselves. Thanksgiving, then, is a chance to give thanks, but also to be grateful and act out our gratitude.

The question is about how we act “gratitude.” In the last month, I have been blessed to be introduced to two different projects that I think help to address the query.

The first is The Muslim Giving Project. Through a series of short, simple challenges, it gamifies actions of gratitude. Now in it’s fourth, and I think final, week, I have been asked to give thanks to someone, to do a good food deed, and now, I have to write a six-word story to show thanks. It makes a move towards a larger culture shift. First, despite the name, the challenges are open and applicable to anyone. Giving is for everyone. Second, it moves giving from an institutional worldview and back into one of personal responsibility. I do not think that weakens institutions; rather, it makes them stronger. When I think about why I give, I can do it on auto-pilot, and let someone else do the hard work, or I can be an active participant. I will guide my money and energy in hopefully more productive ways, because I am invested as a person again.

The other is GivingTuesday. The project launched last year as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and to move from consumption back to giving. I was invited to participate in a virtual panel on why our traditions ask us to give.

Shawn Landres, of Jumpstart, was on the panel with me. One of the things he is working on is Connected to Give, about why religious people give to charities. The theme that kept resonating with me is about whether we give because it is a ritual that is expected, or do we give with commitment to affect change. Are we feeding the hungry, but failing to end hunger?

For me, it is about the need to end hunger, but that does not happen without feeding the hungry as well. I do not want to forget the person in changing the society that marginalizes her, and at the same time, I have to recognize that my actions have to result in a better life for all of us, not just a feel-good moment for me. It is a fine balance, and one that requires work.

What I appreciate about what has been recently offered to me is that small steps of the discipline of gratitude that make the bigger projects possible. So as Thanksgiving (or Thanksgivukkah for some) comes into our life once more, I hope that I not only give thanks, but act my gratitude as well.

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5 thoughts on “Giving Thanks, Acting Gratitude

  1. The issue you raised is also my concern especially when people give, they expect the equivalent to be given to them if not more. Some do give to God with expectations of much more. The question is, does God has any expectations when He gives us. Our attitudes needed to be changed and give from a free mind. We cannot give enough.


  2. I was just reading Terry Eagleton on his atheism, and he talk about the reason God is so radical an idea is because he creates out of love, with no other expectations. While it does have a strong Christian undertone, it is a beautiful sentiment and fits nicely with my belief that religion should be about radical reimaginings of the world that helps those we forget.

  3. Hussein, another great post. I was just reading anthropologist Michael Jackson’s understanding of social relationships, based on exchange – giving, receiving, repaying – and how an upset in these expectations creates conflict and even violence. I think he is right here, but I appreciate your emphasis on dependence – gratitude as acknowledging and living into the statement, “I need you.” Certainly, with the conflict and change in our environment in in this world, the focus on our mutual dependence is critical. Your reflections also radicalize for me Jackson’s understanding of exchange, expanding beyond exchange events to seeing existence itself as exchange. We are always already dependent, always already gifting and repaying. Gratitude is acknowledgment, and a deeply spiritual insight into the structure of the world. And gratitude is necessary, because without this acknowledgment, we can impinge on another’s dignity. The flip side being, our dependence – interdependence that so many celebrate – is also what enables us to harm one another.

  4. Joseph, you honor me. I have actually been thinking about interdependence from a theological perspective, but based on the anthropological notions of gift-giving. It’s a moment where I think thick description is informed by that positionality. The underlying concern is how does this interdependence become/remain revolutionary, instead of maintaining the status quo.

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