Thanksgiving is a Time to Feel Grateful, Not Guilty

by Christopher Paslay


As my wife and I prepared for today’s Thanksgiving dinner earlier this morning (it’s at our house for the first time this year), all at once it hit me how lucky we are, how fortunate we are to have our health and a great house and a caring family to share the holidays with. 


Now I’m not a romantic (I’m more of a realist like Ben Franklin), and I’m sure as heck not a bleeding heart save-the-world type. 


But I must say I was struck with a heightened feeling of happiness and contentment this morning.  These feelings in fact were so strong I was jarred out of my routine and forced to acknowledge them.  Right there in the kitchen, as I was putting the case of Red Stripe into the vegetable drawer, I thought to myself, Man, I am lucky.      


Almost immediately I thought of those who are not as lucky.  For a split second I felt a pang of guilt, felt a moment of embarrassment over all the whining I do on this blog, felt foolish over all the times I bellyache over educational policy.  It was then that I thought, I’m too hard on the “have-nots”.  I need more tolerance, more compassion. 


In particular, I thought about the blog I’d written regarding the Universal Feeding Program (If You Can’t Fill Out a Meal Form, You Don’t Deserve Free Eats), and how I agreed with the USDA’s stance on making poor families fill out applications to get free meals. 


My philosophy was simple:  Struggling families in Philadelphia need tough love.  We must help them grow stronger by holding them accountable for a minimum level of tasks.  If filling out a free meal form is just too daunting . . . we as teachers and community leaders must work closer with our struggling neighbors to teach them the basic life skills needed to survive.  The last thing we should do is reinforce their bad habits by refusing to hold them accountable for their self-destructive behavior.”


On this day of giving thanks, on this day of counting our blessings and acknowledging all of our good fortune, I felt a moment of embarrassment for writing these words.  Suddenly, the Philadelphia School District’s mantra of unconditional accommodation for our city’s have-nots seemed to make perfect sense.  Those who are strong and have their lives in order should give to those who do not.  We should not judge the less fortunate, we should just give. 


But then something occurred to me, even on this happy day.  We should do more than give—do more than simply accommodate—we should empower.   This is when I thought: Why unconditionally donate water when you can teach the needy how to build a well?  Why stop at giving corn when you can teach the less fortunate how to plant crops? 


I know what critics of this philosophy will say.  It’s too daunting.  The poor are overwhelmed.  They can’t do it.  People are starving, and this is no time to teach a lesson. 


But I don’t think this way; this is why my guilt ultimately subsided.    


Today is Thanksgiving, and I thank God and the universe for all He has given me.  The Red Stripe is in the fridge and I am ready to enjoy the beauty of the day.  I am happy.  I am grateful.  But I am not guilty.


I pray for the less fortunate and hope one day we can reach them.  My goal is to empower, not enable.    


There is a big difference.          


Happy Thanksgiving to Philadelphia and the rest of America.  Let’s eat and drink and cross our fingers that the Eagles don’t lay a giant turkey.