Here’s a heartwarming holiday story about an ambitious type-A lawyer named John Kralik whose personal and professional life was falling apart. “I was working so hard at times I felt like I was envying people with heart attacks because they got a few days off.” Despite all his hard work, his business was failing, his second marriage had recently ended, and his relationship with his children was on the rocks.
He decided to take a hike in the mountains on New Year’s Day, at which point things turned around in a dramatic way: “The inspiration that I received on that walk was that until I learned to be grateful for the good things that I had, I would not receive the things that I wanted.” He resolved to be more grateful by writing a “thank you” note to a different person for each day of that new year: 365 thank you’s, the title of a book he wrote about his experience.
I wholeheartedly endorse Kralik’s message: life is incredibly good, and we all have much to be thankful for. The interviewer even called his story “a great holiday message.”
Why, then, did I want to throw a brick at the TV?
Because the interviewer failed to ask Kralik about the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: From whom did Kralik “receive” this “inspiration”? Did Kralik believe God told him to be more grateful? What was Kralik’s religious background? How did his faith, assuming he had one, play into his decision to write these thank-you notes? Assuming the inspiration came from God (which seems reasonable), did Kralik feel as if he owed God anything? Had he talked to any religious professional (priest, pastor, rabbi) about this voice that he heard? Or, since he describes hearing a voice in his head, was he possibly insane?
These are all fair questions. The story had all the trappings of a religious conversion with none of the content. Why? For all I know, this mountain-top experience might have been a deeply religious and spiritual awakening for Kralik, but the interview doesn’t give us access to that.
This sort of thing happens in our popular culture all the time: the media create a narrative that, perhaps in a well-intentioned effort to avoid offending anyone, excludes talk of God or religion. This news segment is supposed to represent “reality,” but it’s not realistic. Even if people don’t regularly go to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, they often have deep religious thoughts, questions, and feelings. They think about God—even when they doubt God exists—and they wonder how they should conduct their lives in relation to God.
It seems incredibly likely that Kralik has given more than a passing thought to the question, “From what or whom did I receive this inspiration? To whom should I be grateful for this experience of learning about the importance of gratitude?” We’ll never know.