At Thanksgiving, I have the tendency to think about things like the greater good. Though I'm a realist, I still have a streak of optimism, and I choose to look for the best in people. I haven't seen enough of that "best" over the past few years, but I have hope it's still out there, and that people still care about their fellow humans.
Watching "The Crown" last week, I got a dose of that with my royal fix, and just in time for the holiday.
In 1982, Michael Fagan, an unemployed tradesman, broke in to Buckingham Palace twice, the second time making it into Queen Elizabeth's bedroom. While a lot of artistic license was used in "Fagan," I was struck by a conversation between the queen, played by Olivia Colman, and Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson.
After Thatcher apologized for the security lapse that allowed Fagan to make his way into the palace, the queen pointed out that the economic measures Thatcher had implemented likely had some responsibility for Fagan's plight.
"If people like Mr. Fagan are struggling, do we not have a collective duty to help them? What of our moral economy?" asked the queen.
Thatcher's response might make some feel better, though not me: "If we are to turn this country around, we really must abandon outdated and misguided notions of collective duty. There are individual men and women and there are families. Self-interested people who are trying to better themselves. That is the engine that fires a nation. My father didn't have the state to rely on should his business fail. It was the risk of ruin and his duty to his family that drove him to succeed."
The queen's response: "Perhaps not everyone is as remarkable as your father."
Since when is caring about others outdated and misguided? If everyone is in it for themselves, we have a bit of a problem, not the least of which is forgetting that there are more people in the world than one's personal circle. Not everyone has the same advantages, and not everyone is in the same situation. One person may go through life having pretty much everything handed to him, with little left to chance. Others may struggle all their lives and not really get very far. Still others will work hard all their lives to attain high rank, only to be overlooked in the end for someone with the "right" advantages.
Most of the people I know are advocates of equality of opportunity (not outcome; seriously, not everyone deserves a trophy). A Black woman should have the same opportunities as a white man with the same education, just as a woman and man with the same qualifications and work put in should be given the same salary for the same position, but that's not how it is, unfortunately.
Here, you may do everything right, but where you live, work or worship, your ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, political affiliation and more may have more to do with whether you get a job or a promotion than your actual qualifications.
We should be thankful for what we have, and mindful that others aren't as lucky. This is what we should remember, not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long.
T he idea of collective duty reminds me of when I was a kid, and our community would pitch in whenever a member experienced tragedy. We've forgotten too much of that kindness, and it weakens us as a society.
Capitalism can take care of a lot, but it can't take the place of community. It can provide a market for various things to serve a community, but it is the community itself that provides the humanity necessary for us to thrive. Money can buy items of comfort, but it can't provide actual comfort. That's why people, not the state or capitalism, are the most important element of society, and we must care for them if we are to have any claim to being moral humans.
Though we won't be able to do the usual Thanksgiving with family and friends, we can reach out to them and to those people who might be alone for the holiday, even if it's just a phone call or text. We can make extra food and deliver it (using appropriate precautions) to those who might not be able to have a nice holiday otherwise. We can check in on those people who might be forgotten and make sure they know they're valued.
We can remember that we aren't the only people in existence and that our actions can have wider consequences. If we're out in public, we can wear masks to protect ourselves and those with whom we come in contact because we or they may be sick and not know it. Covid cases and deaths have grown exponentially because unless you're a total hermit living in an unreachable cave somewhere, you'll be in contact with at least one person, and thus, every person that person had contact with. You shouldn't live in fear, but you also shouldn't forsake common sense and ignore safety guidelines, especially for partisan concerns. Covid doesn't care who you voted for.
Above all, we can remember that neither giving nor receiving should be demonized. We all need help sometimes, and when we get it, we give thanks.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.