Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks for ... Actually, More Than We Think

     I've been cogitating about Penn State, which seems to be developing into an even worse scandal than we thought, involving a long-time coverup of sexual abuse. I've been worrying about the U. S. economy and how it has impacted our lives and the futures of our children -- and how the stock market and our IRAs were down yet another 2 percent yesterday. And today . . . today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

     But I'm tired of stewing over all the negative things in the world. It's Thanksgiving week. I'll be seeing my kids. We'll have some friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. There will be plenty of food. We'll cook on an electric stove; we'll be warm with central heating and comfortable with indoor plumbing. We'll have plenty of lighting, and we'll watch sports on TV and the kids will play video games on their computers, and they'll probably tweet and text with their friends while we old Baby Boomers use the phone to talk to far-flung relatives.

     Turkey is probably the first thing to be thankful for. With all the things going on in the world -- and even with recent increases in food prices -- it is still pretty cheap to eat in America, and most of us will have plenty to put on our tables. We don't have to grow our own food, or kill it, unless we want to. We can just buy it at the grocery store. For the most part it is safe and disease free. In fact, we have a bigger problem with obesity than we do with hunger (even though part of the problem is that cheap food is often fattening ... but that's a topic for another post).

     What else do we have to be thankful for, even as the Occupy Wall Street crowd protests (quite understandably, in my opinion) the inequality of income, the increase in poverty and the dwindling of opportunity in this country?

     For one thing, America is enjoying relatively peaceful times. Yes, our troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Almost 2,000 American military personnel have lost their lives in that far-off country since the conflict began in 2001. We are still in Iraq as well, although we're leaving, and tragically, about 4,500 American troops have been killed in that oil-rich nation since we arrived in 2003.

     We still do live in a dangerous world. Iran is allegedly working to produce a nuclear bomb; so is North Korea. The Pakistanis already have one, while the Arab-Israeli conflict simmers along as it has for the last 60-some years.

     But think back 70 years ago to 1941. We were about to enter World War II, which took the lives of almost half a million American soldiers -- and in its total destruction killed an estimated 60 million people. Or think back 50 years ago, when the Cold War reached its height and threatened to annihilate the entire world. Or 40 years ago, to 1971, when we were still in Vietnam, a conflict that took more than 58,000 American military lives -- nine times as many as have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

     Yes, 2,000 American lives are 2,000 tragedies. But Afghanistan is a skirmish compared to Vietnam or World War II. Can we be thankful that, this year, we've only lost 500 soldiers in hostile actions?

     We can certainly be thankful that our life expectancy is longer than ever. This causes problems for Medicare and Social Security. But aren't those actually good problems? We could bemoan the fact that the U. S. is not among the countries where life expectancy is the greatest. (Japan has the highest, at 82.6). But shouldn't we be thankful that an American born today can expect to live to 78.3? And that death rates for the most dangerous diseases like heart disease, cancer and stroke are down significantly, even in just the last decade? If you're 70 today, you can expect to live, on average, until you're 88.

     Compare this to our parents, born in 1920, who at birth could only expect to make it to age 56. Or our grandparents, born in 1890, who could only look forward to living for an average of 45 years (although a large part of the improvement is due to a decrease in infant mortality).

     We can be thankful because our country is relatively safe. Crime rates have gone down significantly. The murder rate peaked in 1980, at 10.2 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Now the rate is back to what it was in the early 1960s, at less than half the peak rate. Despite the public outcry over Penn State, and the problems in the Catholic church, the incidence of rape actually peaked in 1992. It's not as low as it was in the early 1960s -- but only because, some argue, rape was a crime less likely to be reported back then.

     We are also a more educated population. High school graduation rates have gone up from less than 70 percent in 1960 to almost 90 percent today. And the proportion of our populace with college degrees has climbed from barely 10 percent to approximately 25 percent. To be sure, the improvement has leveled off in recent years, and the rates should be higher in this post-industrial world where education matters more than ever before. Nevertheless, we have made progress.

     Our cars are safer and more efficient than they've ever been. Our ability to communicate is better than ever. Our choices for news and entertainment are more varied. And despite the protests of OWS, we are a more equal society. Blacks have made great strides. More minorities have joined the middle class. Women have narrowed the income gap, and they've completely closed the education gap -- since 2000, and even before that, more women than men have been graduating from college.

     Now, if only the Green Bay Packers win on Thanksgiving, we'll really have something to be thankful for.


fiftyodd said...

Thanks for the uplifting thoughts! We should all be more positive or we might as well give up on everything. Great post.

Roberta said...

Thanks. I needed that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a positive post. I'm thankful for that!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Retired Syd said...

Well you kind of owed us this lovely post after depressing us a couple of posts ago. (Well I loved them both, but you get my drift.)


Stephen Hayes said...

So many people only see the part of the glass that's half empty. It's refreshing to focus on the part that's half full. You provide wonderful examples of all that we have to be grateful for. America may be stumbling lately but this race is not over. America has often been a come-from-behind winner.

Linda Myers said...

What Roberta said. "Thanks, I needed that."

Rubye Jack said...

Yes, we Americans have always had much to be grateful for, but the thing about obesity and poverty is that the foods that are available to the poor are very high in calories. For example, poor people can receive commodities and these things keep them from going hungry, but for one person, they receive a giant block of American cheese (5 lbs.), lots of pasta and rice and beans... These foods keep them alive but also cause diseases such as diabetes to run rampant. Sorry, I didn't mean to make light of all the good things in our country but I don't think many people understand obesity and the poor.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

We do have a lot to the thankful for this Thanksgiving, Tom! Thanks for the wonderfully written reminder!

Dick Klade said...

Thanks for these thoughts;the good thing about Thanksgiving is its call for optimism as we emphasize only good things. Lots of Lions' folks here in Michigan may not agree with your last sentence, but I do.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

I like the Packers too, a family tradition. My family would disown me if I rooted for anyone else.

Question? What is the OWS crowd trying to accomplish anyway? They seem to be angry with everyonone including President Obama.

Yes, there is income inequity in the US, but how will it get resolved by defecation, urination and fornication? Beats me. Dianne

Sightings said...

I confess I'm not that much of a football fan myself, but our T'giving guests are big Packers fans -- so I wanted to be a good host and have their team win. So, thank you Packers for making me a good host.

As far as OWS goes, I don't know what they expect to accomplish, either. They don't seem to have much of an agenda. They're just complaining, as far as I can see. But ... it seems to me they have some legitimate complaints!

Nance said...

I need all these reminders! I've been peering through my Half-Empty Glasses for long enough. Once upon a time, I was the poster child for radical acceptance; now, I need to relocate that perspective before I lose my noodle.

Happy Thanksgiving. Watch for my attitude-changing trajectory. Wish me luck. And thank you!