Albert Einstein once said, “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.” Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His theory of relativity revolutionized scientific thought with new conceptions of time, space, mass, motion, and gravitation. If ever there was a man who had the right to pound his chest and say, “Yea, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m the man,” it was him. Instead, he paid tribute to the labors of other people that helped him reach his great successes.
Consider the debt we owe to the labors of people like James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. In the summer of 1964 these three men, all in their early twenties, were in Mississippi working in a desegregation campaign called Freedom Summer. At this time, approximately 95% of all registered voters in Mississippi were white people. Members of Freedom Summer actively recruited black people to register as voters.
In addition to voter registration, Michael and his wife Rita had set up a community center and library for black children who were not allowed into segregated “white-only” libraries. During this time Michael was receiving daily threats against his life. He and his wife were forced out of a home where they were staying when the homeowner received death threats. Yet Michael persisted. He reasoned that Mississippi “is the decisive battleground for America. Nowhere in the world is the idea of white supremacy more firmly entrenched, or more cancerous, than in Mississippi.”
He was right – and eventually segregation was swept from the face of Mississippi and this country. Unfortunately, he never lived to witness it for himself. On June 21, 1964 Michael, James, and Andrew were abducted by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Forty four days later their bodies were found in an earthen dam. Next time you pull a voting lever on Election Day – think of the gratitude we owe to the labors of these three men.
Before I end my series of “thankfulness” essays, please try a small exercise. Take out a piece of blank paper. Make a list of people to whom you are most thankful for in your life. Next to their name, briefly describe what it is you are thankful for. Now imagine – as you were creating your list – everyone in the world was doing the exact same exercise. Out of those billions of lists, on how many sheets of paper would your name appear? Are you satisfied with your answer?
Take a moment, right now, and think about the people in your life that have meant so much to you – to whom you owe a great debt. Are you going to find a way to pay that debt – maybe not to them – but to someone else in lieu of them? Gratitude isn’t nearly enough. Think about how you can turn the gratitude you feel for someone into something tangible – an action.
Einstein made a terrific point – it is one thing to be thankful, it’s quite another to put that sentiment into action. He said “I must give in the measure I have received and am still receiving.” I dare you to take his advice and find ways to put thankfulness into action. Don’t settle for an inert sentiment, devoid of any action. If you are thankful for someone’s existence in your life – tell them. If you are thankful for a deed that someone did for you – then do something for them. If you are thankful for the pleasure in someone’s voice or the smile on their face – then pass that along to someone else. Give thankfulness a meaning, by giving it an action.
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