Attitude and Gratitude

I don’t often let my studies in philosophy and worldview creep into these pages intentionally. I don’t think it can be helped, of course, because the more I study philosophy, the more I see just how practical it is (contrary to popular belief). On the other hand, sometimes an observation about our world jumps out at me so strongly that I cannot help but to post about it here. If you don’t want to hear this, I give you permission to stop reading now. 🙂

Today, in the U.S., is what is called “Black Friday.” The name derives from a major stock market crash in the 1850’s, but was eventually applied to the combined shopping and football crowds the day after Thanksgiving by the Philadelphia Police, and now, finally to the general shopping day after Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks. About gathering family and friends, and appreciating community, and people, and the shared blessings of homes and meals together. It is interesting that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are juxtaposed in just this way. The family right up against the commercial, the quietness of the home against the loudness of the market. Maybe there is a lesson for those of us immersed, as it were, in the technical world. Let me focus for a moment on one aspect of all of this: people.

We tend to live in a world dominated by social media. Which means, in turn, that we tend to live in a world dominated by “big people.” People who live in some distant place, and have accomplished more than you or I can ever hope to accomplish. Our “heroes”—and our villains!—have all become larger than life. People become mere symbols for something larger, a token in the marketplace, whether the marketplace of ideas, or the marketplace of goods.

This leads to two opposite errors. The first is this: our heroes can never do wrong. The second is this: our villains are not just wrong, they are each and every one the epitome of evil itself.

In turn, this causes us to lace our language with absolutes and invective, and aim these things at people rather than ideas. If you look at the world around us, you will find this all over, starting with politics, but working down to just about every area of our lives. The problem is not just in the giving, though, the problem is also in the taking. We not only treat those we disagree with contemptuously, we also take every slight, real or imagined, personally.

We also tend to deal with machines so much we end up treating people like machines. “The system won’t allow that,” or “that is our policy,” are far too often the answer given to very real human problems. We substitute a social media post for a personal hello; buried in our “people” on the “Internet of Things,” we ignore the real people walking around us. We’d rather deal with the people translated to things on our screens than the real people around us.

Today, then, is an appropriate day to ask a serious question: will we carry the getting of things, or the importance of family and community, into the world? Will we learn to disagree without disparaging, or will we treat ourselves as part of an island, agreeing with people we will never meet, and disagreeing with everyone we actually meet? Will we remember those are people on the other end of the social media network, or will we picture them as bots?

On this day, we have a choice. Will we carry Thanksgiving into the rest of our lives, or will we carry Black Friday?