A new Thanksgiving Day ritual is to go around the turkey table and say the things for which you are grateful. It is a nice thing to do and the encomiums are usually directed towards family and friends.
In one of my classes on Wednesday my co-teacher and I asked our students what things they took for granted but were grateful for. This excluded family and emotions. They generated their list and it was followed by very interesting discussions. Here are the items that they came up with:
1. plentiful food
2. clean, running water
4. heated houses
5. pens and pencils
6. beds and pillows
7. freedom from fear of being unjustly arrested
8. health care
12. fresh air
13. a government that isn’t corrupt
14. educated teachers
It was gratifying to see that they recognized the value of these items, which provide benefits that often go unappreciated in our developed country. The point of the exercise was to bring this idea forward for all too often taking something for granted, as valuable as it is, can lead to indifference or worse.
When something is commonplace, we often either neglect it or overuse it. So, for example, plentiful food has led to an obesity and a diabetes epidemic in the US. Easy access to cheap food has led to a nation plagued by illnesses associated with overeating.
A shower in every bathroom and a bathroom in every home means for many showers so frequent that it is bad for the skin, as we wash away essential oils that help fight infections and strip hair of oils that then require replenishment by purchasing hair conditioning products.
We so take for granted a stable government that more or less works that voter turnout declines year after year. This isn’t the only reason, of course, but when people are truly oppressed, they become keen on politics. Not knowing arbitrary arrest and torture makes it hard to realize that elsewhere people are subjected to oppression that is beyond our own experience.
While our health care system is troubled, we are still healthier than our parents by far. Diseases that scourged previous generations have disappeared. Debilitating illnesses are fewer. But this also means that we have become over-reliant upon pills. The abuse of prescription drugs is rampant and using antibiotics for so many illnesses has led to new strains of pathogens that are coming back to haunt us.
Cars are wonderful tools. We wander fast and far. But there is a price to pay, We walk less, which leads to more illnesses, which we then treat with medications, which, in turn, drives up health care costs. Cars have other social costs: air pollution and dispersed families amongst them.
Many countries fill classrooms with teachers whose level of education is barely above that of their pupils. But the teaching profession is under attack in many quarters, as teachers are cast as part of the elite who disparage revealed religion while undermining traditional authority. We so take for granted the advances that universal, secular education has wrought that some see only its flaws and want to jettison the entire enterprise.
So on Thanksgiving, let us count our blessings. One of mine is to be in a classroom and have such discussions with young people exploring the world in new and thoughtful ways.
What things are you most thankful for?