It seems with the Thanksgiving holiday, we begin to shift our focus from the hustle and bustle of work to the solace and comfort of family, friends, and home. This mixture of respite and revelry lasts until after the New Year. During this downtime, it is a great opportunity to try to help our families and friends gain perspective on what must seem like a perpetual sea of welcomed and unwelcomed changes.
We have come a long way from the first Thanksgiving that the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoag tribe — two very different racial, cultural, and ethnic groups who successfully worked together during the year to not only survive harsh circumstances, but to experience the beauty, and reap the bounty of the brave new world that became America.
Do you ever wonder whether if any, or how many gatherings of Native Americans and other ethnic groups occur today to commemorate the real meaning of Thanksgiving? The early settlers in America and the Natives they met as they arrived here were not always at odds or enemies.
That’s just one thing to ponder.
On a much broader level, America has been on a trajectory of unparalleled success since then but we have also traveled a slippery slope when it comes to protecting some of the very principles and values we hold dear.
Where has our once relatively tranquil and somewhat predictable American way of life gone? It seems to have radically changed in a decade, with 911, the war with Iraq that followed and now the war in Afghanistan. Living with the constant threat of a terrorist act, large or small, has become a part of our way of life.
However, what have we really done since this relatively unknown enemy invaded our tranquil space to understand what truly motivated their attack? Do we know more about Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Koran, Islam, and Muslims? Or have we been, and perhaps, still are too arrogant, too busy, too disinterested to bother to achieve a better understanding?
As we pause to find some measure of comfort in old family traditions, get reacquainted with family and friends, and take time to prepare traditional homemade meals, almost in defiance of the instant, carefree, microwave era, will we be able to escape the anxiety we feel, the loss of our sense of collective safety, and the control we once took for granted?
Our anxiety is perhaps greater than ever before, because the global and civilized world we felt emerging and melding us into one large community just a few short years ago, now seems rifted by cultural, religious, and economic chasms so wide they appear to be permanent divides.
Were they just a few short-lived cataclysmic events in history, or periods of prolonged upheaval that brought about such anxiety? The state affairs — both in this country and abroad — did not come about in a short space of time or with a few horrific events. It is just that the infamous date of 9/11, the subsequent wars, and the near collapse of our financial industry suddenly garnered more of our attention.
The forces — evil and otherwise — that brought us to this point in human civilization have been brewing for a long, long time. Unfortunately, many of us still have not gotten the messages sent through these historic events.
Some of us not only still long for the way things used to be, but remain completely oblivious to the new world that is emerging. Too many of us simply go on with our lives, and expect our dreams, and our celebrations to go on just as they always have, in the sovereign American way, ignoring the winds of change around us.
What meaningful reflections might inform our discussion around our Thanksgiving dinner tables? What is our role in fostering positive societal outcomes? Might we find value in having a conversation with friends, our children, our future leaders, and a conversation that impresses upon them a few valuable lessons?
• Despite how much each of us hears, or wants to believe, we are not the center of things. No individual, race, or country is the center of the universe. We all occupy the same space. We all have a purpose and roles to play.
• No one should build their quality of life on the backs of other human beings. The oppressed eventually rise. History is replete with such examples.
• One does not have to go about his or her daily affairs with utter, even partial, disregard for their neighbor, colleague, friend, relative, or stranger.
• Perhaps, ignorance is bliss, but only in love and only for a time. Generally, ignorance is the breeding ground for vulnerability, which keeps those living in ignorance at a disadvantage.
Burying one’s head in the sand solves nothing. We learned that from the ostrich.
As we begin our celebration of this holiday season, perhaps it should be more than tradition as usual. Tradition often allows us to become complacent, accepting of the religious fanaticism right here on American soil, as well as abroad, and the wanton greed that bestows limitless wealth at the expense of the unsuspecting.
Religious intolerance and racial hatred is not new. It occupies too many pages in the histories of too many countries. It is the common tie of human nature that binds us — the ugly equalizer.
As we partake of our own religious observances and cultural celebrations, let us also take time to understand others, and the things that are occurring all around us.
How much longer can we afford to refuse to see, to acknowledge, and to try to understand the differences among us, rather than shun, alienate, or dismiss them?
The many things we take for granted have often made it easy for us to ignore an age-old premise: It is the kinship and the mutual respect afforded to and by each of us around the table of humanity that will ultimately save us, or the lack thereof that will ultimately bring our own demise.
This holiday season, let us begin to advance the conversation.
What do you really want to talk about with family and friends?