In my 20s and early 30s, before I had kids tumbling in, metaphorically—and sometimes actually—clanging cymbals and shaking me awake before I had time to properly get up, I used to think of three things I was grateful for, before I started my day. It was an idea that I had heard someone suggest on a radio station several thousand moons ago.
These small moments carried me through some difficult times, some grief and even some real livelihood and family challenges. I later realized it was a kind of Reb Nachman-style prayer that I had developed on my own, praising God in my own words during the quietest time of my day. But I found that gratitude doesn’t only work for the religious among us.
Today, in this surreal news cycle that causes real panic attacks, many Americans feel they have no choice but to protest the status quo. Many Americans also fear that the police can’t or don’t have the resources to respond to escalating violence in these protests. Many Americans also have real concern that the pandemic’s aftereffects are doing irreparable damage to our society and childrens’ mental health.
With these ideas at the forefront of my mind, I have dug deeper into gratitude. I have been trying to see everything we do and everything we say to one another through a more aggressive and turbo-charged lens of gratitude. One thing that appears constant to me, that we have tried to portray each and every week in this newspaper, is that it is a fact that there are still good people in the world.
Like Mr. Rogers, Anne Tyler, Anne Frank, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and many others, it seems even more important than ever to seek out the positivity in our worlds, to “look for the helpers” amid every disaster. It’s also important to “see the positives” in American history and understand the idea that iconoclasm, literally the idea that everything from the past has been corrupted by current happenings and must be changed, is not a great environment in which families and individuals can exist in safety. This idea is expanded on in a book I read last year called “Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Transformative Paradigm for the World,” by Philip Wexler, and another volume called “Positivity Bias: Practical Wisdom for Positive Living Inspired by the Life and Teachings of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,” by Mendel Kalmenson.
Like during the Vietnam War protests and the Cuban missile crisis, there is still and always has been a need for us, despite strong emotions, to keep the peace, to value our peacekeepers, to add levity to our surroundings, to be kind to others and to do our parts to stand for calmness, creativity and resourcefulness. It is not time to throw out the baby with the bathwater and “defund the police.”
This spring and summer’s societal unrest and increasingly divisive, racially charged political field that has followed the pandemic lockdown requires a real response that I am not finding in many news sources. I know many will pooh-pooh this as an over-simplified idea, but I ask them to reconsider. Many people feel that having gratitude for what we find and identify as good in the world, and applauding “those who help,” are literally the only ideas that ease our minds in these raucous times.
The questions of what ails our society for me are not “Who is at fault?” or “What people need to be punished for this injustice?” or “What statue should we pull down next?,” but “Who is rising up despite circumstances?” “Who is spending time comforting others?” and “What have I done lately for the carers among us?”
I don’t believe that this is my innate privilege speaking. I don’t believe any overarching “systems” are at fault for our society’s screams right now. I believe that all human beings have the capacity for greatness and kindness, and all human beings have the capacity to rise beyond their circumstances. But it does depend on how one sees the world; I believe it works best with a lens of gratitude.
By Elizabeth Kratz