Thanksgiving reflections on grace and growth for uncertain times

Viewed through the lens of day to day, the past few years of social upheaval are disorienting. Zooming out, our society is rethinking its values.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Thanksgiving has always been a time for reflection, perhaps even more so during moments of societal tumult.

To call the past few years a time of upheaval is a pretty huge understatement. Gender roles and gender identity, race and justice, capitalism and socialism, hyperpolarization, wars, and pandemics – all have brought disruption at levels unseen in generations. Now we’re witnessing what economists are calling the Great Resignation, the unprecedented decision by many Americans to voluntarily quit their jobs, step back, and ask what they really want from work and life. 

In some ways, this time of year is about doing just that. Yes, there are turkeys and presents and holiday music. But amid all that is time for reflection on what really matters. We gather with family for meals and festivities to reorient ourselves, however briefly, according to a compass of deeper meaning – of generosity, goodwill, forgiveness, and love. 

Might that be the larger story here? Viewed through the lens of day to day, the past few years have been disorienting. But when we step back to look at today through, say, the eyes of a historian, might it be that we are fundamentally recalibrating what we think and value? Given all we have been through – what we’ve learned about the preciousness of life, the amazing diversity of our humanity, the fleeting joys and persistent struggles – perhaps we are essentially renovating our societies from the inside out.

Renovations take no small amount of scaffolding and disruption, but we know the endpoint and can look forward to it. The Great Resignation might also be called the Great Reconsideration. Our expectations are changing, recalibrating along higher hopes for equality and fairness, compassion and safety, freedom and responsibility. Those are big-ticket items. They might require punching through a few walls or some rewiring. But even amid the dust, we can see glimpses of what might come.   

This year, maybe beloved traditions grow a little more inclusive. During Canadian Thanksgiving, Indigenous people are finding space to honor their culture and cuisine, with a moose roast or three sisters soup, consisting of hominy, squash, and beans, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports.

Maybe grace grows a little stronger this year. In a podcast by Braver Angels, author Kirsten Powers says political turbulence has forced her to ground herself more deeply in grace, which she describes as leaving room for people to not be like you. Grace, she says, is for the very people you don’t want to give it to – accountability through humanity, not annihilation, a daily practice. 

There’s even a phone app that encourages a daily dose of gratitude, prompting users to write something for which they are grateful. Such things can seem trivial. But as a Deseret News article notes, “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness,” resilience, and emotional strength.

Maybe the lesson of Thanksgiving is exactly what Hallmark cards and TV specials say it is: These things do matter, and taking time to reorient our lives more strongly around them renews us. 

The Great Reconsideration suggests something profound, a chrysalis state of emerging thought. But this Thanksgiving, whether we’re at home or eating a meal with thousands of friends at Fort Bragg, it’s worth considering that the renovations we most need are the very things we are now pausing to celebrate.

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