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Down on the Farm: Thanks for the basics

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Anybody reading this column is likely to be in the most fortunate 3 percent of the world's population.

That alone is cause to give thanks.

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Yes, some of us our sick, some of us are half-broke compared to where we used to be, some of us have yet to get our act together in the first place, some of us are agitated to the point of mental illness by our nation's political situation, but all in all, I sure wouldn't want to randomly trade places with any one of the other of the 6.7 billion people on the planet.

Given the odds, I most likely would end up in a dirt-floored shack somewhere. If I was lucky.

We might be happier if we remembered our good fortune every morning, not just on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is a little like Mother's Day.

I mean, shouldn't you be nice to Mom all the time? Why set aside a holiday to do what you should do daily?

Sometimes I think Mother's Day was invented by the American Florists Association and Hallmark Cards to increase profits through guilt.

Want to make up for a year of neglect for $2.95? Buy a card!

Same for Thanksgiving. I think the American Turkey Growers invented the Pilgrims and all the rest of it in partnership with the folks at Stove Top Dressing, the North American Sweet Potato Consortium and the Cranberry Sauce Co-op.

They'd all go broke if the entire populace didn't feel obligated to use their products one day per year.

We could benefit from being thankful every day, and not because some big guy will bop us over the head if we don't.

Giving thanks is just a good, rewarding habit of mind.

Yet, being thankful is too often reduced to a three-year-old's level of morality.

"What do you say, Johnny?"

"Johnny, what do you say to Aunt Liz?"

Johnny hides behind Dad's leg, thumb in mouth.

WHAP!

"OK, Johnny, you can go to your room until you can be a nice boy and thank Aunt Liz for bringing those hard, round cookies that you could hit 300 yards with a 9-wood!"

Tears, screaming, conflict and shame.

The kid knew the cookies were stale. If they had been any good, he would be sneaking some more instead of hiding behind Dad's leg.

But after years of parental bullying, the kid eventually learns to cover the truth with convenient lies.

As a result, many people grow up to find expressing gratitude repulsive, a surrender of dignity, a capitulation to the miserable wretches who scolded you as a child.

In particular, people generally dread the ritual going-round-the-table to say what you were thankful for at Thanksgiving.

The unwritten rules are clear: The whole thing is a performance. Honesty is to be set aside in the interest of upholding the family fictions.

Competition for righteous points gets pretty intense. So does the passive-aggressive bragging.

"I am thankful that we live in a country where we can gather freely to give thanks without getting sent to a concentration camp and being shot!"

That was always worth a few solemn nods. Good job, kid.

"I am just thankful to be a part of the most perfect family in the world!"

Oh, that's so sweet. Thanks for not bringing up the thumbscrews.

"I am just so thankful that, unlike the rest of you, I was able to find a career that earns me in the mid six figures! It has been such a blessing!"

Yes, and we're thankful that you're going home to Anoka tomorrow morning.

No, thankfulness does little good when it is reduced to performance, moral duty or tired ritual. It need have nothing to do with fear, guilt, shame, scolding or bragging.

Instead, thankfulness should arise from an honest, unforced recognition of reality: Life is pretty darn good.

The world doesn't always feel that way, of course. We have dreamt up thousands of ways to make ourselves miserable, mainly by imagining a need for things we really don't need.

When we get what we thought we needed, we just start needing something else. No time for thanks.

But those of us who have a comfortable bed, three solid meals per day, water, food and a roof over our head are better off than most people in the world.

For the sake of one's sanity, it is salubrious to meditate upon what we have each morning before jumping into the frenzy of getting some more.

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