IBJOpinion

HETRICK: Don’t just be thankful; this year thank and think of others

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Bruce Hetrick

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, some Facebook friends have been posting daily messages during November explaining why they’re grateful for something or other.

Most of the messages express gratitude for simple things: a child’s smile, a good day at work, having a job, cherishing a spouse or family, finishing Christmas shopping, being in good health, staying safe in a storm, seeing a bright starry sky before dawn.

If past is prologue, many of the prayers ’round Thanksgiving tables will sound much the same.

Like the grandfather in the classic “You Can’t Take it With You,” someone will say something along the lines of: “Well, sir, here we are again. We’ve had quite a time of it lately, but it seems that the worst of it is over … We’ve all got our health; as far as anything else is concerned, we still leave that up to you. Thank you.”

Then we’ll pass the plates.

Trite? Perhaps.

But in a world overdosing on skepticism, cynicism, pessimism and criticism—and in an age when Thanksgiving Thursday is being swallowed whole by Black Friday—there are worse things than a month of thankful thinking.

My only quibble with this gratitude gig on Facebook is that it’s a bit self-indulgent: “I’m grateful for this great thing that’s a blessing to me, and I’m going to tout my good luck for all to see.”

I’ve nothing against others’ good fortunes, but the world would be a kinder, gentler place if we promoted 25 or 30 days of thanking others.

Many years ago, I conducted a study for a large not-for-profit organization. I interviewed some of its major donors and asked, among other things, “When’s the last time this organization surprised you with gratitude?”

The oft-repeated answer: “Never.”

One corporate donor said, “I’ve raised a million dollars for them every year that I’ve been here, and I get the same 9-by-12-inch plaque at the back of the room at the annual meeting.”

After that, my client started surprising people with gratitude.

Another former client epitomized this practice—even delivering a fully trimmed tree during the holiday season to an elderly friend who loved Christmas but was no longer able to do her own decorating.

Saying thanks to others doesn’t have to be difficult or elaborate to be surprising. I’ve interviewed countless job applicants who failed to send thank-you notes or emails. So it’s surprising when I receive one.

When I ran a business, I received many boxes of holiday cookies and chocolates. So it was surprising to have a client or vendor skip the sweets and, instead, make a donation to a cause important to my colleagues and me.

My friend James Still, the playwright-in-residence for the Indiana Repertory Theatre, surprised me one year with a Thanksgiving poem. Written by the late Max Coots, it’s called “Let Us Give Thanks” and melds the food on the holiday table with the friends in our lives. Among the verses:



Let us give thanks for a bounty of people

For children who are our second planting



For generous friends, with hearts as big as hubbards

and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,

keep reminding us we’ve had them.



Coots’ poem contains another lesson, too, one for which someone in your life will be grateful should you remember. He says:



And finally, [let us give thanks]

for those friends now gone,

like gardens past that have been harvested,

but who fed us in their times

that we might have life thereafter.

Not everyone feels happy or thankful during the holidays. Some are ill. Some depressed. Some have lost loved ones and are missing them.

Having grieved through many holidays myself, I was desperate for someone to say something. But they didn’t know what to say, or how to say it, or whether I’d welcome that conversation. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to mar their good time.

So a chair sat empty—a vivid reminder of the deceased—and the moose sitting beside the turkey on the table was glossed over with superficial chitchat and football on TV.

My in-laws will join Cheri and me for Thanksgiving this year. I’m grateful for their company and the gift of their daughter in my life.

But Cheri’s grandmother passed away at age 92 just a few weeks ago. Her empty chair will hurt.

So will those of my parents, who will celebrate at their new home in Virginia.

And those of my sons, who will celebrate with their girlfriends in New York and New Jersey.

And those of other family members traveling near and far.

I’m thankful for their health, but sad for their absence. Maybe I’ll surprise them with gratitude on Facebook.•

__________

Hetrick is a writer, public relations consultant and visiting professor of public relations for the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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  • An attitude of gratitude
    Thanks for the reflective thoughts as we head into the Holidays. Your timing is perfect as this is the season many of us focus more on me than we. Let's give thanks 365 days and let it manifest itself in our being quicker to offer gratitude than criticism.

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