The ad opens with a montage of people from all walks of life, all ages, all demographic groups in their homes, their yards, their offices. Each picks up a chair and begins walking toward an unseen destination. Then the panorama expands, and we see a bucolic field with a huge oak tree in the background. Beside the tree is a long dinner table, seemingly endless, set for a meal, and the all the people come carrying their chairs, which they place at the table. The tableau we see is this diverse group of humans, sitting side-by-side, ready to share a meal and fellowship.
In the background, we hear strains from the Youngblood’s song “Get Together.” The cardinal lyrics — “Come on people now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another right now” — seem most fitting on Thanksgiving.
At the very end of the ad, the sponsor’s name appears on the screen, and at least for me, it was surprising: Walmart. Not a business we normally associate with such a warm, sensitive advertising sentiment. There was no commercialism, nor any direct sales pitch, no words at all, except for the song lyrics.
While it’s easy to be cynical about Walmart, a giant business often associated with monopolizing an economic sector and harming local businesses, this Thanksgiving message was refreshing. I hope it is a sign of the times, not just on Thanksgiving, but for the whole calendar year.
When a huge business eschews a direct advertising opportunity and instead uses purchased air time to remind us of our humanity and connection to others, I call that a mini-miracle. Maybe I am naive, but I hope that such a hopeful message coming from Walmart, of all places, signals our need to wake up to the idea of coming together again as a kinder people.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings out the most generous and appreciative sides of us. We are all familiar with the adage that we need to spread throughout the year the feelings of love and outreach that we exhibit at Thanksgiving.
Here in Columbia, we practice year-long service to others. We respond with swift generosity and assistance when our fellow citizens are in need — from relief when floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters destroy lives and property, to assistance on more personal levels when our fellow citizens need help with food or shelter or medical care. We are a generous people when it comes to providing tangible help to others.
In the larger holiday season that Thanksgiving ushers in, we should also allow our generosity and compassion to enter a less tangible arena: our own philosophies and personal ideologies. In these difficult times when our divisions and conflicts are highlighted more than our common humanity, we need to consider the message of love, unity and compassion that Thanksgiving and the other upcoming holidays convey.
Members of the faith community, wise statesmen, insightful leaders and other concerned Americans encourage us to become proactive in these uncertain times by being informed and thoughtful, recognizing the strength that comes from a more positive, inclusive outlook. We can also remember the basic lesson we learned from our grandparents: the importance of simple kindness to others.
George Saunders, a critically acclaimed contemporary author, recently said in a speech that one of his real regrets in life is “failures of kindness.” Saunders frames the idea of kindness in terms of being confident enough to let one’s own human nature come through.
He asks that we remember ideas that connect us to others, and in these contentious times to “Do those things that incline you toward the big questions and avoid those things that would reduce you and make you trivial.” Above all, Saunders promotes the idea for all of us to “err in the direction of kindness.”
A final line in the Youngblood’s song gives us a choice: “You can make the mountains ring — or make the angels cry.” On Thanksgiving, I vote for making the mountains ring with a renewed dedication to the generosity and kindness that the holiday symbolizes.
Ms. Beasley is an Columbia educator; contact her at email@example.com.