On this Thanksgiving of 2011, America is at a crossroads. Overall civility in politics and society is at an all-time low. Political leaders, placing party and re-election over doing the right thing, are not creating meaningful or sustainable policies. American businesses are not hiring. Working people cannot pay their bills or provide opportunity for their children. Markets are unstable. Untold numbers of Americans live in economic poverty that promotes a mental culture of poverty, hopelessness and distrust. The "99%" is starting to fight against the "1%". Whether real or perceived, division is taking over.
So why are we thankful to God?
By tradition, on our currency and in our courtrooms, Americans say "In God we Trust." Congress affirmed this pledge just a few weeks ago. But it is one thing to talk the talk; it is a whole other thing to walk the walk by acting worthy of God's trust in us. We hope, starting with this Thanksgiving, that Americans, led by Congress, can reach for that higher bar.
Thanksgiving presents us with moral lessons that can help get us there, and Thanksgiving, for us and our children, presents a teachable moment about who we are and what we stand for.
Rooted with Pilgrims who broke bread with indigenous peoples after they landed on America's shores, Thanksgiving is an icon of goodness and decency. In an unpolluted land that presented both opportunity and risk to the Pilgrims, their first instincts were to thank the Almighty for their journey, their destination, and their warm neighbors.
In this tradition, Thanksgiving is recognition that we are not alone in this world or in our land, that we are beholden to God, to our families and to our community. We do not operate as silos, separated from one another by miles of wilderness, but, rather, we are united in common traditions, roots, values and destiny.
The Founders recognized this destiny when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, declaring that all "men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among which are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Early thought leaders declared America the new "Promised Land" because of the opportunities and values it presented. Extending from that, early writers and leaders envisioned that, like the Biblical Israelites who traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land, America had a covenant with God to actualize values and principles. The world at the time of the first Thanksgiving was not a friendly world -- it was a world of privilege for the few and tyranny for the many.
America changed that picture. In its founding documents, the authors espoused opportunity, equality, fairness and faith.
But like the biblical travelers, we have had our struggles with God and eternal values. In the interest of commerce, we instituted slavery. In the interest of expansion, we took over indigenous peoples' lands. In the interest of male pride, we oppressed women. In the interest of profit, we oppressed workers. These blemishes on the American character are an undisputed part of history.
Along the way, we have paid dearly to reclaim values and, we suppose, God's trust. Emancipation, Voting rights. Civil rights. Working rights. Safety nets such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, also, followed as we and our elected leaders combated bigotry, poverty and greed with our core values.
So at this Thanksgiving and beyond, with so much hanging in the balance, isn't it time for Congress and others to get back to the values that have rescued us from the brink in the past?
Four years ago, Purple America interviewed almost 1,000 people on the streets of America. They were big business leaders and workers, small business owners and entrepreneurs, coffee shop and fast food workers, religious leaders, retirees, stay-at-home moms, students, doctors, lawyers, mail carriers, teachers, immigrants and homeless people.
They all expressed a common ground through 12 values -- Equality, Faith, Family, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-Expression, Doing the Right Thing, Community, Giving Back, the Good Life, Opportunity, and Success. These are not religious values, nor are they conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic. They are righteous values that can earn us God's trust and rebuild our trust in each other.
To Congress: If we say, "In God We Trust," then let's mean it by acting in ways that don't violate God's trust or that of the American people. As leaders and role models, we have a responsibility to lead in a civil, principled and God-like way. Partisan battles that lead us to political Armageddon don't support the real cause of America.
To the American people: Let's truly be thankful for the country God has given us, a country rooted in values and virtues that have inspired the world. Let's not trash it or each other. Let's live our values.
To business leaders: Be thankful to our country, whose citizens and values have enabled you to grow and prosper. It is time for you to be responsive to and lead through these values. Principled companies have discovered that values are good business.
And, at this time of national Thanksgiving, may we be authentic in thanking our country based on the way we act toward each other. Our faith and values have been and can again become our grounding elements. If we really trust God, then we must create a country where, because of its people, culture and deeds, God also trusts us.
To see America's shared values and add your voice, go to www.Purpleamerica.us
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