The Parent of All Other Virtues

Somewhere in the great beyond is the true object of our own thankfulness. It’s up to each of us to find ways to express that thanks for a debt owed.

By Jack Cashill

When you send your eager little freshmen off to college next fall, there is a good chance the campus thought police will stop them before they even find their dorm rooms and demand of them, “Check your privilege!”

“Check my what?” say your sheltered little ones.

They will learn soon enough. The phrase, all the rage on campus, is not inherently wrong. We should all be aware of what we have been given. What’s wrong with the phrase is the spirit behind it. The Grinches doing the demanding work from the soft-core Marxist assumption that someone somewhere has something they do not.

From a material perspective, of course, campus Grinches are not deprived in any shape or fashion. They are attending an American university for crying out loud, the most comfortable and cosseted place on the planet outside their mothers’ wombs.

In a sense, however, the Grinches have a case. Someone somewhere does have something they don’t. It is just that the Grinches have never learned what that something is. Their educators have taught them well how to nurture their grudges. They have not taught them how to appreciate their gifts.

Had these student Grinches been reading their classics, they might have had a better sense of how the world turns. As Roman philosopher Cicero reminded us, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” The fact that Cicero said this more than 2,000 years ago does not make it any less true. The sentiment endures. The chronic ingrate cannot practice virtue. He can only mimic the virtues others practice.

It helps, of course, to have some greater power than oneself to be grateful to. The Grinches, alas, have convinced themselves there is no such power. In the process they have deprived themselves of this ancient sense of wonder, of connectedness, of indebtedness. Thanking an imagined prebiotic soup and the unguided processes of nature hardly warms the heart.

Spiritually vacant, the Grinches look down on Whoville and see the Whos enjoying their humble lives and celebrating their happy feasts and can only assume the Whos have been given something they have not. Unfortunately, too many of their educators would rather reaffirm their envy than reawaken their souls.

If there are Grinches in your life—and they don’t have to be young or political to be one—walk them through a thought exercise this season. Ask them to imagine a material pleasure to which they are firmly attached.

In my case, it would be the hot shower. Just about every night of my adult life I have taken a hot shower. I can account for the nights I have not. Think about what a hot shower entails. To begin, it requires a complex, interdependent technology that did not exist before a century ago and still does not exist in half the world.

Closer to home, that hot shower requires a roof overhead, a steady fuel source, hot running water, a modicum of privacy, money to pay the bills, and an actual shower head. Ask your little Grinch: How many people on this good earth are afforded this
luxury? I would guess no more than 10 percent.

As to what percent of people have historically enjoyed the blessing of the hot shower, the number is too small to bother calculating. If
America did not invent indoor plumbing, we were certainly the first to universalize it and the first, I am sure, to make soft toilet paper a constitutionally guaranteed right.

A consecutive nightly hot shower for many, many years requires a variable more important than pipes or valves. That variable is stability. At no time in my life, adult or otherwise, have I been driven from my home.

Like the great majority of Americans, I have not had to flee an invading army, a ravaging fire, a lethal plague, an angry mob, pillaging Norsemen, the Red Guard, the secret police, incoming missiles, or Indians on the warpath. OK, I have hidden once or twice from surly trick-or-treaters (shhh!), but I never fled the house.

Hell, even during the last great ice storm, when we lost heat and power for nearly a week, I stuck it out in the house and—mirabile dictu!—had hot water every day and a hot shower every night. We take this stability for granted. We shouldn’t. As a people, we are uniquely blessed and insufficiently grateful.

In Kansas City, as a case in point, the 1 percent live only slightly better than the 99 percent. Their homes are no warmer in the winter, no cooler in the summer. Their cars are no bigger. Their views are no better. They live no closer to their work. And by all appearances, the 1 percent eat considerably less, especially the women.

And if your Grinch thinks getting a D in sports management or a speeding ticket from the Prairie Village police constitutes “oppression,” have that Grinch read the headlines. Here is a real one: “ISIS murders 1,500 POWs in brutal display of violence.” Here is another:
“Pakistani woman, 20, gang-raped, kil-led and hanged from a tree.” Or let’s try one more: “Kenya: Draft bill proposes stoning to death of gay people.”

After a trip through the history books or the Drudge Report, how can we not thank God on the hour for letting us—even the least privileged among us—live in the freest, most comfortable, secure, and prosperous place in the history of the world?

None of these blessings guarantees happiness, of course. The Declaration only promises the free pursuit thereof, but as our forefathers understood better than we do, we are much more likely to find happiness if we pursue virtue than if we covet our neighbors’ goods.
And if we are to practice virtue this season, why not start with the parent of them all? Merry Christmas.  

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.