Thanksgiving is an opportunity to spend a day with your friends and family, to enjoy a bountiful meal, some stimulating conversation, and likely a great football game, or, at least, some tryptophan induced sleep.
The origin of Thanksgiving supposedly dates back to 1621, the year after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. One of the earlier native friends of the Pilgrims was a man named Squanto.
Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to successfully farm in the New World. As a result, the Pilgrims first harvest in October of 1621 was very successful. As the story goes, William Bradford, the Governor of the Pilgrims, declared a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the bountiful harvest. A day of feasting ensued for the Pilgrims and Governor Bradford invited Squanto and his tribe to the party as well, to pay them thanks.
Aside from giving thanks to our friends and family, Thanksgiving is also a great day to sit back and put things in perspective. It is a day on which we should realize that the world that we live in is just not that bad. I was reminded of this earlier this week after reading a column about the treatment of women in Pakistan; I was especially intrigued about a woman who was referenced, Mukhataran Bibi. I spent the next few hours researching her and it is a story that is worth sharing.
Mukhtaran is a Pakistani woman from a small tribal village in rural Pakistan. In 2002, Mukhataran’s young brother committed an infraction against some men from the Matsoi tribe, a neighboring and more powerful tribe, and was harshly punished. When the young boy threatened to report the incident, the Matsoi men called the tribal council and claimed that the boy raped a Matsoi girl. At the conclusion of the meeting, the tribal council stated that the boy would be forgiven if his sister, Mukhataran, came to the council to plead for his clemency.
Mukhataran arrived at the tribal council to purportedly plead on behalf of her brother. She was then taken to a nearby stable where she was brutally gang raped for hours, an action that was decreed by the tribal council. Following this ordeal, Mukhataran, a Muslim woman, was forced to march almost naked in front of a jeering crowd of hundreds back to her family’s home. She was then expected to commit suicide to absolve her of this shame as is tradition for women in her culture in these situations.
After such an ordeal, one would easily expect Mukhataran to lose all faith in humanity. Instead, her response was nothing short of heroic. Rather than committing suicide, and with the help of a local religious leader, she testified against her six attackers. She eventually won the case and was awarded compensation money.
Mukhtaran’s use of the compensation money was even more noteworthy. Her fundamental belief was the most appropriate way to overcome future abuses was through education. Thus, she used her compensation money to start a school for girls and a school for boys in her village. To show that she bore no grudges after the ordeal, Mukhtaran went out of her way to enroll the children of her and her brother’s attackers in the school.
Mukhtaran has since become a lightning rod for feminist rights in the region. The creation of two schools has led to the creation of countless others. The purpose served by many of these schools is much broader than education. Many of the schools serve to protect woman that have had atrocities committed against them and to enable these woman to reenter society with confidence and independence.
I’m not trying to suggest that we should be shameful that we live in a civilized world. Nor suggesting that we need to undergo an ordeal of epic proportions to enable us to give back, but rather that we should be thankful. We should be thankful for the opportunities that we have to live in a civilized society with a rule of law that enables us to pursue our dreams and interests. And as part of being thankful, we should give back.
Giving back can mean many things. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates long ago could have forsaken their capitalistic instincts and joined the good work of a philanthropic organization. Ultimately, though, the world is better off that they did pursue their naturally given gifts and that they existed in a society that enabled them to do so. The combination of Buffet and Gates’ philanthropic monetary contributions are now the most substantial in the world.
I started with a quote from Mother Teresa as I have a great deal of admiration for her accomplishments, but as a friend of mine who is a Medical Doctor and has worked in one of Mother Theresa’s hospitals in India reminded me this weekend, she is also a woman that is surrounded with some controversy. Many of her detractors believe that her primary cause was to promote her religion. A support that sometimes came at the expense of modern medicine and, ultimately, the poor and underprivileged that she was serving.
While Mother Teresa may have been a woman of religion first, the facts don’t lie. This small, impoverished woman from a poor Macedonian family who left home at 18, never to see her family again, to become a nun and ultimately serve the world’s most needy left quite an impact. Although she passed away in 1997, the organization she founded, The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, is serving 697 communities in 131 countries around the world. An organization of such scale that it rivals the accomplishment of any modern capitalist.
In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel peace prize. In her acceptance speech she retold the story of a group of college professors from the United States coming to visit her in Calcutta. She recounted one exchange in particular, which is outlined briefly below:
“Say, Mother, please tell us something that we will remember, and I said to them: Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family.”
Her advice was simple really. All charity and charitable acts do indeed start at home and with people that we know the best. While we should hold up people like Mother Teresa and Mukhataran Bibi and admire them for their actions, an act of kindness, as Mother Teresa states, can be, and often is, as simple as smiling and showing that you care to those around you.
Daryl G. Jones