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EDGEWISE: On this Thanksgiving generosity for refugees — past and present

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By Thursday, Nov 26, 2015 Viewpoints

Each Thanksgiving, it gets harder to ignore the huge gap between those of us privileged to enjoy a lavish, abundant holiday centered on feasting — and everyone else.

There is no moral justification that could explain why my family, along with many others in America, gets to focus on finding the perfect turkey and preparing the tastiest stuffing or apple pie, while around the world millions of other families will be going to bed hungry.

Seen in its best light, Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrating the kindness and generosity that humans are capable of showing to strangers. Let us remember that the original American Thanksgiving occurred when starving European refugees were fed by Native tribes who pitied and succored them.

pilgrims-landingUnfortunately, as we know, the European refugees did not repay the favor in kind. Having survived those first few harsh winters, they turned around and treated their hosts with sustained discrimination and savagery, driving the Native peoples off their ancestral lands, cheating, swindling and sickening them when outright firepower wasn’t enough.

Human history is filled with far too many stories like this, with one tribe or culture pitted against another, and viewing each other through a hierarchical lens, one group better or less than the other.

It is high time that we reject this script as unworthy of the intelligence and morality of human beings. Instead of looking into the world and seeing differences and divisions, it is time to seek out our commonalities, the underlying nature that makes all of us human.

Genetic research has shown us that we are almost identical to mice, pigs and other mammals, including marine mammals like whales and dolphins. It is obvious that we have a lot in common with the birds who nest and the little fish who hide when a predator comes near.

If we can begin to understand our profound relationship with all life on Earth, surely we can begin to embrace other human beings around the planet as our brothers and sisters.

Does this mean we should show love towards terrorists? The Buddhists say yes; that we should strive to project loving-kindness towards everyone and everything on Earth, even that which is hateful, because in that way hate can be transformed by our love.

So far, I have only been able to understand this principle in an intellectual way; I have not managed to find it in my heart to love those who treat others with cruelty.

But I can view cruel human beings with compassion, knowing that cruelty and aggression are traits that can only be cultivated in humans through harsh, unhappy childhoods. I know that I owe my own capacity for love and empathy to a happy, loving childhood — the kind I wish every human child could be blessed with.

This Thanksgiving, as we modern Americans carve our turkeys and savor our stuffing, cornbread and sweet potatoes, let us remember the real roots of this holiday, and find it in our hearts to adopt not only the feast but also the generous spirit of the indigenous ancestors of America, who welcomed the first European refugees with compassion and kindness.

Let us invoke the ancient Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and embrace the ethos of Thanksgiving by sharing our bounty with those less fortunate, including today’s 21st century refugees of violence and persecution.


Author photoThe weekly EDGE WISE column is curated by Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D., associate professor of comparative literature, gender studies and media studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and the Founding Director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Women writers interested in publishing in EDGE WISE can find writers’ guidelines on the Festival website, or may submit queries or columns to Jennifer@berkshirewomenwriters.org.

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