During a recent conversation with my mother, she suggested that during this holiday week I write about being thankful.
It seemed a trite proposal, even oddly irrelevant.
What with all that is happening in the world: a looming terrorist threat; a refugee crisis that is creating instability and incivility; college campuses in upheaval; protests on U.S. city streets; a weak economy; and a highly contested presidential election that will determine the future direction of our country — what would I be expressing gratitude for, exactly?
When times are dark, when the shadows of fear, distrust, anger and sadness seem to hang over everything we do, it is difficult to feel grateful.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
But even in trying times, Americans have good reason to be thankful, not in spite of the challenges we face but because of them.
Indeed, the threat of terrorism is real.
Officials from the U.S. intelligence community can offer no guarantees that terror will not strike our homeland.
Still our fears, however justified, pale when compared to the unrelenting terror that daily grips so many people around the world.
In Iraq, suicide bombings are so commonplace they hardly register in Western media anymore.
Tunisia has endured multiple terrorist assaults this year, including one on Tuesday, by an organization seeking to disrupt the nation’s democratic transition and succeeding in many respects.
Women in Nigeria don’t have the luxury of griping about the injustice of so-called pay inequality; their fears are more visceral, like the threat of being kidnapped by the Islamic radicals of Boko Haram and sold into sex slavery.
In such nations the governments are generally some combination of criminal and incompetent.
While our own institutions are worthy of the criticism they receive, they operate with remarkable transparency and efficiency by comparison, such that law enforcement agencies are usually able to disrupt terrorist plots before attacks occur and protect the most vulnerable among us.
To wit, our political leaders are debating the wisdom of allowing more Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the nation.
It’s a worthy contest, but it’s happening because the U.S. is a desirable nation for resettlement. Being an American is still a valued status.
Despite our nation’s soaring debt and fiscal problems, we have the resources to help people who are escaping circumstances so horrific they defy imagination.
Speaking of soaring debt, America’s elite universities have become epicenters for grievance.
The merits of their arguments aside, students have proved they possess unprecedented power.
In what other country could a mediocre football team compel the resignation of university administrators?
The proliferation of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has helped inspire activists across the country.
China, Iran, North Korea, Turkey and Pakistan all ban forms of social media to prevent such democratic uprisings.
But in the U.S., we can ease our consciences by employing a popular hashtag or adorning our profile photo with a rainbow or a French flag.
Campuses aren’t the only source of political uprisings; many of our nation’s city streets are flooded with Americans who believe they are fighting police brutality and racism.
Whether or not such claims are valid, the right to protest, to challenge authority and to demand policy changes without a credible threat of state retaliation is remarkable.
Some of those protesting name income inequality among the social ills that plague communities.
There is certainly truth in that.
Still, poverty in America looks nothing like it does in other parts of the world.
The needs government programs can’t meet are frequently fulfilled by our robust civil society, supported largely by religious institutions that, broadly speaking, still enjoy protection under the law.
And in less than a year, Americans again will have the opportunity to elect their political leaders in a democratic process that, despite its deficiencies, is still far more free and fair than those employed by most nations around the globe.
Indeed, we are incredibly fortunate to be Americans, and we are incredibly lucky to be living during these times, difficult as they are.
I for one am thankful to have a mother wise enough to remind me of that.
Cynthia M. Allen: 817-390-7166, cmallen-