November 12, 2012: Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and the Liberal Arts

As the Saint Joseph's College community prepares for our own Thanksgiving celebration this week, we are mindful that gratitude is, like all virtues, something that improves with practice. But I would like to suggest that gratitude can and should also be seen as one of the "liberal arts."

The value of the liberal arts comes not from seeing them as a set of discrete academic disciplines, but as a system of interlocking approaches designed to help us explore and appreciate an amazingly rich and complex world. As a system, the liberal arts allow us as individuals and communities to give shape and purpose to our conversations by allowing us to see from multiple perspectives. So we study literature or nursing or philosophy or accounting from a place that recognizes the need to look for connections and the benefits that results when we do.

The liberal arts – or perhaps more appropriately, the "liberating arts" – free us from the trap of constructing a reality informed only by the demands of the immediate moment. The liberal arts allow us to understand that what we are experiencing, others – across time and space – have also experienced. And, that our responses can be richer for this awareness.

But more important than what the liberal arts free us "from" is what they free us "to."  Our Saint Joseph's College mission calls us, in part, to "advocate for justice and peace in recognition of each person's responsibility for the welfare of both humankind and the environment."

Building better worlds is, then, what the liberal arts free us to do. And for that opportunity and that obligation we can also be grateful.

Here's a link to a wonderful, short meditation on gratitude written and narrated by the Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Gratitude!

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