Thank You for A Million Blessings, Global Province Letter, 27 November 2013

We had the best time at your party
The wife and I thank you very much
We had the best time at your party
 The wife and I thank you very much
            From Gene Ween’s  “Your Party” (as played at Francine’s)

A Million Blessings.  Our new friend from Paro—Nawang Gyheltshen—taught us a great deal about thankfulness in our long conversations with him.  During our recent Expedition Bhutan, he shared with us prayers, bits of pain, home remedies for illnesses, long stories about divinity, his favorite antique sources, long slippery walks through rice fields, his career as onetime monk and then mountain hiker, and tales of the eccentricities of his Western clientele. But best of call, he told us what Bhutan, a poor country by any measure, could share with the world.  “We have little, but we can give a million prayers to the world.”  Elsewhere in Bhutan, too, we found that thoughtful men knew their duty was to pray for the world and to send goodness out into it. The man from Bhutan gives thanks to humanity by sending blessings and good will to one and all.

As we amble down the path and get close to Thanksgiving, we can give thanks in ways the Pilgrims never contemplated, reaching out across the globe and feeling gratitude. We can toast all of mankind, celebrate our wonderful friendships, or simply exult in life itself.

Thoughtful Gifts for Many Friends.  Just as we got back on these shores from an extensive trip in Asia, we heard from Professor Neil Bearden at INSEAD Singapore who counsels us to “Show Appreciation to Your Network.”  Much akin to sending prayers, one can send thoughtful bits of knowledge with a personal note to friends here and there, opines Bearden.

“I once worked with a fellow named Bill who was always cutting out clips from newspapers. Wielding his scissors he’d remark something along the lines of, “I think Mr. Wittgenstein would enjoy this.” Then he’d put the clip in an envelope, write Mr. Wittgenstein’s address on it, and mail it out. Snail mail. Bill mailed out clips all the time, and each one was tailored to its recipient’s interests.”

“Bill understood something very important. People appreciate being appreciated, especially when the signal of appreciation is costly to the giver. I don’t mean financially costly; just that the signal of appreciation involved some above-threshold level of effort on the part of the sender. Bill could’ve forwarded links to those same articles by email, but those wouldn’t have meant nearly as much to the receivers – in fact they’d quite likely feel like spam. Bill had cut out those clippings with his own old school, somewhat rusty scissors, and put them in the envelope himself. The receivers probably understood that, and that’s what made the clippings so meaningful. The content was secondary; that Bill made an effort is what really mattered. 

Crucially, Bill didn’t send clips to people from whom he wanted something. He just sent them to people he thought would appreciate them. Bill appreciated people and they appreciated him. I’m sure folks were always ready to give him a hand. He could pick up his phone and get the name of a contact, a bit of financial advice, a good recipe, or whatever from countless people around the world. No doubt they’d be grateful to help him out because he gave so much without expecting anything in return, because he was thoughtful.”

What Professor Bearden grasps is that personal, thoughtful, and highly meaningful missives are a wonderful way of saying thanks and hello to friends caught up in their own little worlds, at once part of the global community, but simultaneously along and isolated from each other by narrow concerns, narrow thoughts, and the trials of hectic daily life.  If one can shoot a targeted arrow into their midst, one celebrates and gives thanks for friendships that know no boundaries.  Giving thanks to friends means giving them some personal piece of oneself.

Maybe the need for connection, deep connection, intrigues Bearden because he is on an island state in Asia, far away from the centers of the world.  As Wikipedia says, “Singaporesɪŋəpɔər/ or /ˈsɪŋɡəpɔər/), officially the Republic of Singapore, is the world's only sovereign city-state that is also an island country.” In such circumstances, one is hard at it to prove the very reliable truth---“No man is an island.”

Thankful for Being Alive.  In the present age, many dwell on the past, harking back to better days in the 1960’s or during the Frontier or at the founding of the Republic in the 18th century.  Nostalgia is running rampant. Romantic poets throughout the Western world celebrate the past and wax poetic about youth. But it is instructive to read, in contrast, David Lehman’s chat about William Wordsworth and “Tintern Abbey,” where the present does not fall victim to the past. 

Of all the English Romantics, Wordsworth is our least favorite, and we were most happy when we were through slogging through him in college courses. We found his verse vapid, and were not surprised to learn that he was not a very nice guy in any event.  But still he is important.

“Wordsworth has a fierce nostalgia for boyhood—"when like a roe / I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides / Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams, / Wherever nature led." But the reality principle is strong in him; he shuts off the reverie in four curt syllables: "That time is past." The crisis is solved, the melancholy fit cured, by the key apprehension of a divinity located not in the remote heavens but on earth, in nature. The conviction that there is "a motion and a spirit that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought, / And rolls through all things" expresses itself with the force of a soul-restoring epiphany.”

In nature Wordsworth finds pleasure and joy in the present day and a reason to be hopeful about the future, and he is able, therefore, to say the past is past:

      Therefore am I still
      A lover of the meadows and the woods,
      And mountains; and of all that we behold
      From this green earth; of all the mighty world
      Of eye, and ear,--both what they half create,
      And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
      In nature and the language of the sense,
      The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
      The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul                
      Of all my moral being.

In Wordsworth, and hopefully in ourselves this Thanksgiving, we can rejoice in and give thanks for a world that still affords us beauty and pleasure.

P.S.  We shall talk more of our Bhutan Expedition next week. Bhutan is a remarkable country, at once still akin to a medieval kingdom and simultaneously about to thrust its way into modernity.  It is a miracle that it even exists, sandwiched as it is between two predatory powers—China and India.  The country has a very energetic new prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, with whom we lunched for a couple of hours recently.  He has plans to fuel the country’s industrial base and reverse its debtor status by vastly leveraging its hydroelectric energy capabilities.  We think his bread-and-butter vision of national priorities is most encouraging, since previous statements of priorities often were not down-to-earth enough for a country and people that is inching along.  The young queen is an avid basketball player so we are anticipating a new bounce in the national gait as Bhutan tries to surmount obstacles aplenty not the least of which is its very mountainous terrain. Pilots bound for its main airport at Paro all require very special training to navigate hill and wind.

P.P.S.  We recommend that you get started on your own journey to Bhutan by closely reading our colleague at Spicelines.  This week you can read Postcards from Bhutan: Butter Lamps, Fall Chilies & the Biggest Buddha, a lovely pictorial introduction to an enchanting even mythic country.


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