Tuesday, November 25, 2008
This week, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. In addition to being an excellent opportunity to spend time with relatives, eat oneself into a carb coma and watch a lot of football on TV, Thanksgiving is ostensibly a time for gratitude. It's a time to reflect on the things we are grateful for and thankful for. Sometimes we are grateful for things that are not the result of anyone else's tangible goodwill - we're grateful we still have a good job in these perilous economic times, or we're grateful that our loved ones are healthy. Often, though, our gratitude is in response to others' generosity. We're grateful for the friend who talked us through a tough break-up or the relative who loaned us money when the car broke down.
Without the generosity of others, we would all have a lot less to be grateful for. Much is made of the Gosselins' gratitude or lack thereof for the donations of time, money, goods and services they received after the birth of their sextuplets. I don't want to focus on that, because it's an endless and negative argument about whether they are thankful enough (as if we can know what is in their hearts) or whether they've given enough back. I'd like to focus inward, on those of us who make up this blogging community. Are we generous enough? I'm speaking specifically of emotional generosity, of that quality we sometimes refer to as "giving the benefit of the doubt". A lot of my issue with anti-Gosselin bloggers and posters can be encapsulated in this one point: that they do not show any emotional generosity towards the Gosselins. I'm not talking about liking the Gosselins - to a degree, we like who we like and we dislike who we dislike, and we don't always have a lot of control over those feelings. But we do have control over whether we choose to be critical and negative or to be generous and positive.
I don't mean to sound like a goody-two-shoes. I'm as capable of unkindness and lack of generosity as the next person. But I do wish people would take a step back and look - really look - at how hard they are on a couple that they don't even know and who have never done anything to them. I'm not talking about being okay with the concept of the show or with how the Gosselins parent. I agree that those are valid discussion topics, given that the Gosselins have "put it out there" by appearing on TV. I'm talking about how we choose to view individual actions. Do we look at a positive action (a contribution to charity, or kindness towards one of the children) and judge it at face value, or do we put the worst possible spin on it? Do we criticize actions that from a rational perspective are morally neutral? Do we look at negative behavior (seeming to feel entitled rather than grateful; unkindness towards the children) and consider each instance of it another nail in the coffin, further proof that the Gosselins are irredeemably awful people? Or do we look at in context, try to understand (not excuse) the behavior? Remember our own instances of being less-than-perfect and try to soften the harshness of our judgments?
I'm not talking about being judgmental. I think that's human nature. But I think you can have judgment without having so much anger; I think you can temper the judgment with goodwill and generosity.
I admit, I struggle with this myself. Obviously, I make judgments about "the other side" - their motives and characters. I try to remind myself that most of us are more or less normal, average people - not saints (except for Saint!) and not monsters. We are who we are as the result of our experiences and our innate characteristics. It can be hard, though, not to see the hostility in some posts, here or other places, whether it's directed at me or not, and not feel hostility in return.
There is no reason for other peoples' anger to necessarily make me angry, but that's the thing with emotions - you put stuff out there and people pick it up. You put hostility out there, you will get hostility in return. You put kindness and generosity out there - you might just get that in return. And wouldn't that be something to be truly thankful for?