Category Archives: gratitude

Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 has come and gone.  But let’s reflect on it for a moment.

As we celebrated the holiday this year, our country was facing a number of serious problems:  climate change, political divisions, the continuing coronavirus pandemic.  But we’ve had reason to be thankful for some positive changes as well.

Among the positive changes we can point to is the long-overdue recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, like those who were at the “first Thanksgiving.”  Unlike the traditional and untrue telling of the story of that event—a story that’s still perpetuated in at least some of the schools our children attend—the people who were already here (commonly called American Indians or Native Americans) did not view the Pilgrims’ celebratory feast as a happy one.

Even then, at the very beginning of our country’s history, the Indian people who were confronted with Europeans arriving on their shores viewed them not as welcome guests but as a threat. 

If that was indeed the judgment of their leaders, they were right.  The new settlers were oppressors who drove the native peoples off their land—in the words of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, these “ancestors…who stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”

Secretary Haaland, the first Native American appointed to a major cabinet post by a U.S. President and a former member of the U.S. Congress, spoke at a ceremony on November 19th, marking the 52nd anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island by indigenous people in 1969.  During her remarks, she announced that she had established a process to review and replace derogatory names currently attached to our nation’s geography.

Specifically, Secretary Haaland ordered the federal board tasked with naming geographic places, the Board on Geographic Names, to remove the term “squaw” from federal usage.  The Board, established in 1890, has in the past identified derogatory terms on a case-by-case basis, but more extensive replacements have also occurred.  In 1962, Secretary Steward Udall identified the N-word as derogatory and directed the Board to eliminate its use.  In 1974, the Board similarly identified a pejorative term for “Japanese” as derogatory and eliminated its use.

Most Americans may be unaware that the term “squaw” is a derogatory term used for many years to demean women, especially Native women.  But Haaland was outspoken in condemning it.  She said, “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands.  Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.”

Several states have already passed legislation prohibiting the use of this term in place names, including Montana, Oregon, Maine, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Minnesota.  Legislation is currently pending in both chambers of Congress to address derogatory names on public land.

The new order to eliminate this woman-demeaning term presents a significant problem in California.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported on November 24th that an estimated 100-plus places in California carry the derogatory name.  These include peaks, streams, trails, and other geographic features.  According to the ACLU, there may be as many as 113 sites in California using this term.  Looming large are two small towns in Northern California called Squaw Valley, one in North Lake Tahoe, the other in Fresno County.

The Chronicle reported a statement by Roman Rain Tree, a member of a band of Native tribes indigenous to the Fresno County area, who has been organizing a grassroots effort to rename the rural town of Squaw Valley.  Secretary Haaland, he said, has made “a giant leap forward.  It restores my belief that the government has elected officials who will look after our community.”

The Chronicle also reported that the California State Parks have identified a number of geographic features carrying the name and intend to rename them, moving us “closer to the goal of reckoning with our past, making space for healing and promoting equity.”  Removing the term is seen as a priority.

More troublesome is renaming the towns called Squaw Valley.  According to the Chronicle, thousands of people have already signed an online petition to change the name of the town in Fresno County.  But some residents of the community have “balked at the idea, contending that ‘squaw’ isn’t universally offensive.”  A county supervisor said that “Squaw Valley is offensive to some, but not all.  … [T]he local community needs to be involved in that conversation.”

Meanwhile, the Tahoe ski resort, long named Squaw Valley, has already changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.  Now it apparently needs to do a better job of publicizing its new name.  A short time ago, I heard an ABC weather reporter still refer to it on national television as “Squaw Valley.”

The San Francisco Examiner also reviewed some of these issues on November 25th, writing about a ceremony to be held at Alcatraz Island on what most of us viewed as Thanksgiving Day but others viewed as “a day of mourning for Indigenous people, also known as “Unthanksgiving Day.’” This ceremony first took place in 1975, six years after indigenous activists occupied the island to claim it as a place promised to them in a treaty that was later broken by the federal government.  April McGill, executive director of the American Indian Cultural Center, told the Examiner that she hoped “people think about what the holiday really means and rethink it…[not] to do away with the holiday altogether but to remove the celebration of Thanksgiving, instead [to think of it as showing] gratitude for the fall harvest.”

At the same time, California is just beginning to reckon with its long and ugly history regarding the treatment of American Indians.  An essay by John Briscoe, published in the Chronicle on November 28th, outlines this history, noting that while California was admitted to the union in 1850 as a “free state,” it was, in truth, “conceived in genocide” of its Native Americans.  A long-established principle of law required the U.S. to honor the private property rights of indigenous peoples.  Instead, the state of California openly sponsored the “theft” of land belonging to the local tribes that lived here.  Indians were also subject to the state’s Indian Slavery Act (enacted despite being in violation of the state’s constitution) until it was repealed in 1937.

Serranus Hastings, California’s first chief justice, profited off the enslavement of Indians, and the law school in San Francisco that bears his name is now in the process of renaming itself.   Briscoe writes that Hastings, Leland Stanford, and many others acquired vast tracts of land through violence against Indians and made fortunes in real estate as a result.  “California Indians had rights guaranteed by law—American domestic law and international law—[including] the right not to be murdered, not to be enslaved, not to be stripped at gun and knife point of their ancestral lands.”  But, he says, each of these rights “was systematically and repeated violated by the state of California.” 

In 2019, there was belated acknowledgment of these wrongs.  Governor Gavin Newsom officially apologized “on behalf of the citizens of the state of California to all California Native Americans for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect California inflicted on tribes.”  Newsom also created a Truth and Healings Council to clarify the historical record.

Although we should never forget past inequities, which have occurred throughout our country and its long history, we should also acknowledge the positive changes that have taken place in recent years.  With Native American Deb Haaland as our new Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. may finally be moving towards equity for our indigenous peoples.

I, for one, am happy to know that some of these changes have happened in time for Thanksgiving 2021.

How about Thanks AND Giving?

I was scanning the aisles at Trader Joe’s when I noticed one of its 99-cent greeting cards.

The message caught my eye:  “Let our lives be full of BOTH Thanks & Giving.”

It struck me as the perfect card for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I grabbed it and carried it off with the rest of my purchases, planning to bestow it on a loved one at our annual feast.

But while the card patiently awaits its presentation on the holiday, the message has stayed with me.  What better sentiment to express at this time of year?

Just when Thanksgiving is on our minds, we’re inundated by pleas for money from a variety of causes.  At the same time, we want to give holiday presents to loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.

My proposal:  Let’s focus on both giving thanks and just plain giving.

So, as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this week, I’m keeping both in mind.

First, let’s give thanks for all of the good things in our lives.  If you have any of the following, you’re lucky indeed and should feel grateful:  Loving family, good health, caring friends, cheerful acquaintances, some degree of success in your profession or work of any kind, and achievement of (or progress toward) whatever goals you may have.

Next, if you’re financially able to assist a good cause (or many), this is a splendid time of year to send them gifts.  For most charitable and other good causes, a monetary gift in almost any amount is welcome.  So please think about opening your wallet, your checkbook, or your online ability to send funds, and make a gift to show that you support these groups.

You can also scour your home and donate usable items you no longer need to worthy groups that will pass them on to others.

Finally, giving presents to those you love and care about may also be important to you.  But try to keep the health of our planet in mind when you choose those gifts.

Good karma will come to you.  Or so I like to think.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Giving Thanks

As our country celebrates Thanksgiving, this is the perfect time for each of us to give thanks for the many wonderful people in our lives.

I’m an ardent fan of a quote by Marcel Proust that sums up my thinking:

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

I’ve always been a fan of giving thanks.  I raised my children to give thanks to others for whatever gifts or help they received, bolstering my words by reading and re-reading to them Richard Scarry’s “The Please and Thank You Book.”

But guess what.  Not everyone agrees with that sentiment.  These nay-sayers prefer to ignore the concept of gratitude.  They reject the idea of thanking others for anything, including any and all attempts to make them happy.

What dolts!

Recent research confirms my point of view.

According to a story in The New York Times earlier this year, new research revealed that people really like getting thank-you notes.  Two psychologists wanted to find out why so few people actually send these notes.  The 100 or so participants in their study were asked to write a short “gratitude letter” to someone who had helped them in some way.  It took most subjects less than five minutes to write these notes.

Although the notes’ senders typically guessed that their notes would evoke nothing more than 3 out of 5 on a happiness rating, the result was very different.  After receiving the thank-you notes, the recipients told them how happy they were to get them:  many said they were “ecstatic,” scoring 4 out of 5 on the happiness rating.

Conclusion?  People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others, even with a tiny investment of time. The study was published in June 2018 in the journal Psychological Science.

A vast amount of psychological research affirms the value of gratitude.

I’ll begin with its positive effect on physical health.  According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.

Gratitude also improves psychological health, reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.  A leading gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, has conducted a number of studies on the link between gratitude and well-being, confirming that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.

Other positive benefits:  gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression (a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky), it improves sleep (a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being), and it improves self-esteem (a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology).  The list goes on and on.

So, during this Thanksgiving week, let’s keep in mind the host of studies that have demonstrated the enormously positive role gratitude plays in our daily lives.

It’s true that some of us are luckier than others, leading lives that are filled with what might be called “blessings” while others have less to be grateful for.

For those of us who have much to be thankful for, let’s be especially grateful for all of the “charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” those who bring happiness to our remarkably fortunate lives.

And let’s work towards a day when the less fortunate in our world can join us in our much more gratitude-worthy place on this planet.