• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Thanksgiving, 2011

These are the times that try men’s souls.
Thomas Paine

The skies remain dark this Thanksgiving. The greatest economic recession since the great depression is entering its fourth year. Sixteen percent of workers are either unemployed or have dropped out of the labor market. Our leaders in Congress are split into ideological camps, unable to agree on what needs to be done. We have stopped trusting each other. We have stopped listening to each other. We have closed our hearts to each other. Our wounds fester. We have become bitter towards one another. The Blessings of Liberty are in jeopardy, for ourselves and our posterity.

It is a time again to remember what we are thankful for.

Let’s start with my parent’s generation, that great generation of men and women, those children of the depression who defeated the enemies of freedom in World War II and created the vital alliances that kept us safe during the cold war and the dismantling of colonialism around the world. Their simple example of ordinary men and women working together, doing what needs to be done, sacrificing for us, their children and grandchildren, offers us much to be thankful for.

It is not just my parent’s generation but ordinary men and women throughout our history to whom we are thankful. It was these ordinary men and women, coming to the new world to escape religious intolerance in Europe, who brought us our first Thanksgiving, bringing with them their commitment to a civil body politick, perhaps the first requirement of self-government.

At a time when we, the people, are anything but a civil body politick, it’s important to be thankful to the founders, to reflect on the ideals of the Declaration they bequeathed to us, that all of us are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need to be thankful as well to the final words of the Declaration: we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. We are all in this together, that is the sacred commitment we make to one another, from that deepest place in our heart. For this we are thankful.

Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity requires that we bring our very best intellect to the challenges we face. There are no simple solutions to our challenges, no silver bullets. We are going to have to think our way through them and that requires at a minimum our ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving. That you and I can think as well as we do is reason to give thanks to the intellectual giants on whose shoulders we stand: Socrates and Plato, Galileo and Newton, Descartes and Locke, Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, Darwin and Einstein, along with every teacher we have ever had.

We give thanks to those who have brought us wisdom from the gods, from that place of the spirit where we are all one: Jesus, Hillel, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu. Confucius. Love they neighbor as thyself. That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. Liberty and justice for all is not a zero-sum game of winners and losers but a moral conviction, a faith in the miracle of cooperation where we all win together.

America—at our best—speaks with this voice of the spirit, this voice of profound cooperation. During the cold winter of World War II, Judge Learned Hand reflected the Golden Rule in the spirit of liberty:

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

We are thankful this Thanksgiving for all those who have come before, each generation bequeathing us gifts: the gift of liberty and justice, of freedom and equality, of knowledge and wisdom, of love and compassion, of courage and shared sacrifice, of cooperation and sacred honor.

There is much to be done in America … and the world. It is not enough—in these trying times—that we spend a day in thanks with family and friends, only to return to our lives tomorrow, to the gridlock that is America, unchanged, as if nothing had happened.

This is not only the time to give thanks for our blessings—the blessings of liberty. It is a time to redouble our efforts to pass on these blessings to our posterity. This is our responsibility, our commitment to the founders, our sacred duty—and also our joy, for what beyond the laughter of a child is more joyful than seeing that child grow up free, imbued with the spirit of liberty, pursuing the happiness that lies in his or her heart.

America has an election in less than a year. The voices we hear are the voices of divisions. The voices we need to hear are the voices of unity. It is time once again to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. This is the only thanks that truly matters this Thanksgiving: that we do for others what others have done for us. Otherwise it’s just words.

In the darkest days of World War II, Winston Churchill wrote: Our qualities must burn and glow through the gloom … until they become the veritable beacon of [our] salvation.

History teaches us that times of crisis are not only times of danger but also times of great opportunity.  The stories of our past are like beacons, lighting our way through the dark night, shining their light on new opportunities. From them we gather the knowledge, the courage and the wisdom to do our part in passing on the Blessings of Liberty from our ancestors to our descendants.

As this year’s winter descends over America, it becomes more important than ever to hold fast to the spirit of liberty so that we may emerge from our time of crisis as earlier generations of Americans emerged from theirs, with a deeper sense of social justice, a clearer vision of human welfare and happiness, a renewed spirit of mutual helpfulness to translate vision into reality, and a strengthened commitment to work together intelligently and compassionately for the betterment of mankind.

As we give thanks this Thanksgiving, let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom, to creating that shining city on the hill where all are created equal so that we may soon say “The winter of our discontent is over. Springtime has returned to America.”

Let freedom ring.

© Copyright 2011. Stan Stahl, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this essay in its entirety.

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