Healthy discourse about our government is necessary for a vibrant democracy. Questioning our leaders keeps them on their best game, helps fine-tune this grand republic of ours.
But the negativity has become such a dominant paradigm that we've forgotten all the good our government provides. People are so busy railing, "You know what really makes me mad?," that they've become complacent to all the services and benefits they enjoy and use on a daily basis. We Americans take our privileged lives for granted.
Context is everything. To people in Third World countries, being born in America is like winning the lottery. Instead of venting for once, let's spend this Thanksgiving reflecting on our many gifts.
I'd like to propose an exercise popular with the Oprah set: a gratitude list. Here's mine:
1. Thank you for providing me with an education, even if I am a girl. Yes, I'm keenly aware that our educational system is far from perfect. But it sure beats sub-Saharan Africa where 35 million kids don't have the chance to read or write. The 11 million girls in South Asia who can't even enjoy a comic book would gladly trade for a seat in the classroom of even the worst American teacher.
2. Thank you for providing clean water. All I have to do is turn on the tap and voila! I've got all the fresh water I could ever want. Nearly a billion people in the world do not have this luxury. In fact, every time these 884 million people take a simple sip of water, they risk cholera, salmonella, e. coli, hepatitis A and a whole host of other diseases. One and a half million children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water. By the time you finish reading this, 25 children will have died from a water-related disease. Having access to safe water gives me as many as eight extra hours each day. Many of my African sisters spend that much time carrying water for their families.
3. Thank you for providing roads and highways so I can easily exercise my freedom to roam. Until you've been in a country without roads, it's hard to even imagine the difficulty, the sheer work involved in getting from Point A to Point B. In Africa, once you leave a capital city, lumpy, potholed dirt tracks are the norm. Even in a major city such as Doula, Cameroon, a city of 2 million, streets amount to pits of rubble alternating with holes marking unfinished construction.
4. Thank you for providing me with firemen and police officers. In many undeveloped countries, you might as well kiss your house goodbye if an ember accidentally jumps out of your cooking stove. There's no phone, let alone 911 to call. Even in countries like Chile and Peru, firefighters are strictly volunteer. All 38,000 of Chile's bomberos, as they're called, hold down regular jobs and have to finance their own fire trucks, hoses and other supplies.
5. Thank you for picking up the trash. Sanitation might seem like a small thing, but try going a week without it. In developing countries, trash collection is irregular or non-existent and when it does happen, it's often dumped in an open site or burned without air or pollution control.
6. Thank you for public libraries. My local library, funded by my local government, offers access to everything from leather-bound copies of Madame Bovary to this month's Esquire to the final season of Lost. Public libraries are where millions of Americans access the Internet, using it to find jobs and connect to vital community resources.
7. Thank you for providing a safety net for my aging parents. Social Security provides comfort, dignity and peace for older Americans. It's also our country's most potent stand against poverty, keeping 40 percent of people 65 and over out of food lines and homeless shelters.
While I could go on (freedom of the press, freedom to put a bumper sticker on my car without being thrown in prison, a fair and equitable justice system, etc.), I'll stop with this simple encouragement: Let's put down our dukes this holiday season and realize that, yeah, no government's perfect, but as the Dalai Lama once reminded the New York State Senate, it sure beats the alternative.