Opinion and Taking Issue

KENNEDY: So many reasons to be thankful

November 30, 2013

Sheila Suess KennedyThanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday, not just because it is the one time of the year when all the far-flung relatives assemble, but also because it is an opportunity to consider how incredibly fortunate we are.

We have Thanksgiving at our house, and before I let anyone eat, I insist that we go around the table and have everyone acknowledge what he or she is most grateful for. (Granted, my kids have taken to calling me “the gratitude Nazi,” but I persevere … )

It isn’t just a matter of counting our blessings; it’s an exercise in recognizing them.

Anyone who reads columns and blogs (including mine) or listens regularly to pundits of any and all political persuasions is well aware of all the problems Americans face and our seeming inability to agree on solutions, and to take our blessings for granted.

So—in the spirit of the Sam Cooke lyrics—I want to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative,” here goes: (I’ll leave out the “gooey” stuff about my long-suffering spouse, talented kids and absolutely perfect, wonderful grandchildren.)

• As my grandmother always said, “If you have your health, you have what’s really important.” So I’m grateful for my family’s good health, and good health insurance. (I’m especially grateful that I’m not one of the 300,000-plus Hoosiers who will continue to be uninsured because Indiana won’t expand Medicaid.)

• I’m grateful for public education at all levels. There are many people around the world who don’t have access to schooling of any sort, whose lack of basic literacy reduces their ability to live fully realized lives. We spend a lot of time beating up on our own schools and teachers, and many of those criticisms are justified, but on Thanksgiving, we might stop to realize how profoundly our lives have been changed by the availability of public education and the devotion of those who have made the nation’s schools their life’s work.

• I’m grateful for Google! In fact, I can’t remember how I lived without the ability to find the answer to virtually any question, from how to cook a turkey to the gross national product of Timbuktu. The Internet has changed our lives more dramatically than we can really grasp, and some of those changes have been troubling, but the benefits far outweigh the social costs of this new communication medium.

• I’m grateful that I was born at a time when the women’s movement changed social expectations, allowing those of us with ambitions beyond the kitchen to realize those ambitions. (And I’m very grateful for birth control, which made that women’s movement possible.)

• I’m grateful to live in a country with democratic institutions and a Constitution that protects the civil liberties of everyone, even the people with whom I disagree. I’m also grateful for the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations that make government abide by its own rules.

• I’m grateful for government. All of us would have very different personal and economic lives without police and firefighters, the Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and all the other agencies that keep us safe. They aren’t perfect, but they’re more important than we often like to admit.

Thanksgiving is a time to recognize the profound gift bestowed by our social infrastructure, and the extent to which that infrastructure makes our own lives and accomplishments possible.

Of course, we’re all grateful for turkey.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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