23 November 2005: Giving Thanks

Giving thanks for one another

(Note: The published version of the following was edited extensively due to space limitations. The complete draft as submitted follows.)

Thanksgiving. A day set aside for Americans to give thanks, but to whom? For some, the answer might be obvious—God. For those who don’t hold a belief in a Supreme Being and even for those who do, perhaps a different response is in order—giving thanks to and for one another.

Without resorting to hyperbole, one can make a good case that we are in the throes of a second Civil War, non-bloody, albeit, thus far. America over the past 140 years has faced some incredible potentially divisive and destructive events and movements—the labor movement, the Great Depression, WW II, Vietnam, civil rights and race, to name a few, but it is challenging to think of a time in which the polarization has been so great as it is today. The rancor, anger, divisions, distrust, and antagonism of today seem to go beyond the pale. Witness the “debate” in the House of Representatives last week in response to Rep. John Murtha’s call for withdrawal from Iraq within six months. A retired Marine colonel with two purple hearts and one of the more “hawkish” members of Congress, he was scorned a coward on the floor of the House by some whose war experience has consisted of watching John Wayne movies. Even here in Colorado, Governor Bill Owens has been labeled a “turncoat” by true-believers for betraying, as they see it, dogmatic principles of fiscal conservatism.

With Thanksgiving, thoughts and energies focus anew on tribal and ethnic traditions. My one obeisance to seasonal ritual is baking nut roll, a walnut-filled sweet bread. It’s an East European creation like my heritage. As were your ancestors, unless you are full-blooded American Indian, my grandparents were immigrants. And therein lies our strength: America, a land of immigrants. The PC term for that is “diversity.” Drawing on my Slovak heritage, a more fitting and colloquial term might be “goulash.”

Of late, it is fashionable and at times politically advantageous to go after immigrants, particularly the so-called “illegals.” Some call them that because they entered the U.S. illegally, but then, from the Native American perspective, so did Christopher Columbus and William Bradford. At that time however, might did seem to make right, and the Europeans had the advantage of being able to spread infectious diseases, often more lethal than the guns they used, to decimate the indigenous peoples.

Human history is replete with examples of migrating peoples and the dislocations they cause. Once again, just ask our Native American friends about being “dislocated” from their lands by emigrating people. But while reasons for immigration may be simple, what remains complex is the dealing with it. Immigration to the U.S. correlates to two interrelated facts: Jobs and money—opportunity—are here and not in the land from where immigrants come. It’s primarily about parents desperate to provide more than a subsistence living for their children, doing what good parents do to help their family survive.

One of the first anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic movements in U.S. history arose during the 1850s in response to Irish and German immigration. The political party was officially called the American Party, but it soon became known as the Know-Nothing Party because when asked about their activities, members proclaimed to “know nothing.” The party disintegrated in the midst of the pre-Civil War upheaval, but interestingly enough, many of their northern members joined the nascent Republican Party. Their ideological heirs are alive and quite well today and gravitate to the likes of Tom Tancredo. To deal with the “immigrant problem,” they offer inane “solutions” such as building a wall, like the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China, along the Rio Grande and others more reprehensible. The reality is that unless we come to understand that resolving immigration issues will take a multi-faceted visionary approach, including implementing pre-natal population control measures worldwide, promoting sustainable economic growth within all countries, and, most important, abandoning the “we versus them” philosophy, this issue will only become exacerbated.

A lesson from the quantum theory field we can apply to this is the interdependence of all. If we can accept that and move forward from that understanding, it can be good. Joseph Campbell surmised that from the moon, “earthrise” gives everything a whole different perspective. From there, the view is not of an assortment of squabbling, warring adolescents at war over religion, oil, and taxes. It would be of interdependence—of all of us in this together. So, before carving that bird, give thanks to and for all. Better yet, throw together some goulash.

Teachable moments. A school day is loaded with them. Over a career, a good teacher recognizes and takes advantage of those delicious opportunities that seem to drop from the sky. Master teachers thrive on them, realizing that a good lesson plan is just that—good—but unexpected teachable moments are priceless.

It looks as if our high school faced one recently with regard to a guest speaker who tried to raise awareness about the toll the war in Iraq has taken. That has lead to other related issues about how the assembly came about, requirements to attend, the behavior of students, and respect for guests invited into their “home.” I am in the process of trying to put together a discussion on all that with representatives from the school and community on my show Western Exposure on December 3 at 3:00 on KYGT. It can be a learning moment for all of us as well. Please tune in.

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