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Ted Malloch: Thanks In Giving

Posted on 22 November 2018

Guest post by Ted Malloch author of Being Generous

Think of thanksgiving not as a duty but as a privilege.

We Americans have so much to be thankful for — not the least that the Pilgrims started this tradition all the way back in 1621.

Much later in 1995, MIT Media Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte wrote a best-selling book with the audacious title, Being Digital.

The book was in essence a nonfiction science and technology forecast describing a world free of wires. An instant classic, in many ways it came to define our Internet era.

Being Digital provided a general history of several digital media technologies, many of which Negroponte himself was directly involved in developing in the labs. He analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of the new technologies and tried to predict how they would evolve.

He argued that humanity is inevitably headed toward a future where everything that can be digitized will be digitalized.

He was very soon proved right.

Being Digital and its thesis remind us that, as the French poet Paul Valéry once remarked, the future is not what it used to be.

And this is largely because, like the future, change is not what it used to be.

Negroponte’s description of the growth of digital technologies as “almost genetic in its nature” suggests an exponential expansion of the rate of change. In this sense, Negroponte’s book was as much about change as it was about the future.

This is hardly surprising, since it is difficult to refer to one without referring to the other. We can no longer describe the future or the process of change without addressing digital technology, since all three are facets of the same intricate process.

Similarly, one cannot address the topic of generosity without addressing people, for generosity is rooted in the things people feel and do.

Thankfulness is a virtue, a habit that shapes and governs a way of life.

It influences expectations, causing people to look at the world as though others—not them- selves—are the principal reason for the world’s existence.

It is my hope that in the new world of connectedness to which we are advancing, the virtue of generosity will find fertile ground, that it will spread through the world as peace spreads through a congregation or good cheer through a carnival.

Like Negroponte, I see the overthrow of the paradigms of the past. Much that is stale and out-of- date is vanishing. We are beginning to share our traditions, religions, and moral philosophies.

And we appear to be ready in our increasing affluence to forge something new.

A country and a civilization based on more spiritual information.

At the core of this new way of being is the virtue of generosity.

It too, can become ubiquitous.

This Thanksgiving when you sit down at family dinner and carve the turkey, everyone should attempt to see what being generous means and what it might entail for our common future.

I contend that the future is half inherited and half created.

Nothing under the sun is ever entirely new.

We need to recall the collected wisdom of the ages.

The big and important questions people have addressed through the ages are still with us and are not going to go away anytime soon.

The Great Books, our various religious heritages and sacred literature, and science all provide us with valuable starting points in this new journey into old uncertainties.

In the context of this grand pursuit, however, it is my belief that being generous may be the most important thing we can do not just for others, but for ourselves, for our societies for our progeny, and even for the God or gods we choose to worship.

It all starts with saying two words, “Thank you.”

Well over two hundred years ago, Adam Smith said more or less the same thing, albeit in the voice of the Scottish Enlightenment, in his seminal work, The Wealth of Nations, for which he is rightly famous.

Earlier, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments he wrote, “It is the best head joined to the best heart.”

Thanksgiving is the time to experience what it means to be generous, by giving thanks.

In so doing, we can make a concerted effort to celebrate and practice this critical virtue.

Being Generous
by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, Templeton Press.

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