Be grateful and, yes, talk politics at Thanksgiving — for a while | Opinion

Like the last few years, this Thanksgiving has the potential to be, well, a spicy one. We’ve beat COVID, the airborne virus we still don’t quite understand; we’ve battled spikes in inflation, and now we’re wrestling with a tough economy, an upcoming presidential election, war on the other side of the world, and oh, the flu and RSV have hit Texas hard.

If you’re looking for reasons to sit at the Thanksgiving table and take after your dad’s second cousin and gripe and moan, you certainly could. Times are hard, and it’s difficult to look at the bright side of anything when you’re struggling through tough season after tough season.

But here’s another perspective: First, you don’t live in a world like many do where citizens’ cell phones are lit up with “incoming rocket” alerts as Israelis have experienced the last several weeks. As Americans with a robust military, we can’t really imagine what it might be like to wake up every day in fear for our lives; in fear that there are bloodthirsty terrorists lurking in our neighborhoods looking to murder us because we’re Americans.

America is, generally speaking, a safe place, with the exception of a spike in crime during COVID, violent crime is the lowest it’s been since the 1990s. It’s easy to take this for granted, but we really shouldn’t.

Close-up of black man carving roasted turkey during Thanksgiving meal at dining table.
Close-up of black man carving roasted turkey during Thanksgiving meal at dining table.

A lot of families are worried about divisive topics ruining their Thanksgiving meals: Politics, religion, foreign policy, the list goes on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not only can you avoid those topics, but you can choose to look at world events differently.

Be thankful you live in a place where you can have family and friends over for a meal, knowing you might disagree about a few things, or knowing that there might even be a heated discussion, but by the time the football game starts, everyone will be enjoying pumpkin pie and coffee.

In America, robust debate is not just welcomed, it’s kind of the thing that allowed America to become the nation it is today. Kicking around controversial ideas — such as Should we have a king? Should we have a central banking system? Should we engage in war against our tyrannical dictator? — this is the stuff that makes America what it is.

It’s a pity to see families shy away from a few hot topics while gorging themselves silly. Instead of avoiding these things, dive in! Talk about it for a few minutes, then talk about something else. It might be refreshing to get it all out on the table, find some common points of agreement, and realize the world isn’t going to end.

Plenty of countries have specific holidays dedicated to their nation’s history, but ours is remarkable because it’s unique. There quite simply is no other place whose origins were based solely on religious freedom. Even if you’re an atheist —- in fact, especially if you’re an atheist — this is a stunning concept. No other country got its start with a small army of Puritans just toiling away on the Eastern seaboard, battling long, cold winters, just trying to survive, only to find that the key to their survival was partnering with Native American Indians and then giving thanks for it. The courage and fortitude those people had is really mind blowing if you think about it long enough.

Gratitude is an underrated, but vital, idea now that we live in a sea of excess. It’s easy not to be grateful for anything because we have so much of everything. But there’s a reason the first group of American settlers decided to take a day to remember what they’d been through and how they survived. They knew if they didn’t, they’d forget and become proud, self-reliant, and ultimately, bogged down in some other minor frustration.

Perspective is a valuable tool today: Whereas your biggest problem might range from being unable to pay bills to being unwilling to talk politics with your great uncle, the settlers’ biggest issues were simply trying to survive. Yet they still remained thankful.

So on Thursday, it might be tempting to sit down at a beautiful table and a delicious meal that someone else prepared and launch into a list of grievances you’ve had over the years, or to eschew a hearty discussion about foreign affairs with a family member because you might realize you were wrong about it. But you would be wise to remember: We still live in the greatest country on earth. Would you really want to be elsewhere?

Someone, somewhere would be filled with gratitude to have the problems you face today. If the Pilgrims gave thanks after all they’d been through, surely we can, too.