Thanksgiving has become an over-dazzled family feast that speaks less of heartfelt gratitude and more of negotiating days off work.
As Americans, it can be difficult to comprehend the scope of our privilege. Though I'm not trying to invoke a false dichotomy – America has its share of poverty and problems – the sheer amount of potential we possess boggles the minds of our socioeconomically-challenged neighbors. Our generation in particular has been largely sheltered from norms of the past, such as a general lack of food and water, or the draft, or dangerous working conditions.
But this column is not meant to be a history lesson; it is a lesson on how to give thanks.
Giving thanks doesn't mean standing around your grandparents' expensive dining room table and listing good things that happened to you this year. Giving thanks isn't writing cards to everyone that remembered to wrap you a present for Christmas or your birthday. It's not the warm fuzzy feeling you get when your aunt breaks out the sweet potato casserole.
Giving thanks is realizing your potential and surpassing it; it's hard work. Giving thanks means getting As in the classes you're capable of getting As in and using your healthy legs to run fast. It's using your voice to sing. It's helping the less fortunate, because you're fortunate enough to help.
Now, back to the "not invoking a false dichotomy" thing.
The quoted phrase means not implying there's some great void between our standard of living and its problems and the standards of living of others. The only problem is that it's not a false dichotomy. The bottom 10 percent of our very imperfect country still lives in better conditions than the majority of the planet's population.
Here comes the angry part:
I don't hold many moral truths to be airtight, but I firmly believe wasting potential is objectively despicable. Not using every resource that's been dumped in your lap is not only lazy, but ultimately insulting to all of those less fortunate than you.
Letting a mind go to waste or a body sink into obesity is like taking a sledgehammer to a Steinway. Yes, you have the right to do whatever you want, but "doing you" doesn't make you a good person. Realizing that you likely have never known true need, it's time to stop complaining about your course work.
It's time to stop abusing your body with laziness, drugs and alcohol. It's time to realize that you're very likely not the worst case scenario, and that nobody owes you anything.
Statistical outliers aside, you live in the richest country in the world with easier access to education than ever.
You drink relatively clean water every day and likely don't go to sleep wondering where your next meal is going to come from.
Give thanks for that, too.
You have access to literally all of the information in the world, largely uncensored, in free libraries across the country. You can walk outside and tell everyone what you think is wrong with the world without fear of your grandchildren being put in concentration camps. Yes, there's concentration camps, even now in the year 2013.
If ever there were a winning hand, you were dealt it. Now stop embarrassing your species and give thanks with your actions every day, not with some awkward two-minute speech before you cut the turkey.
Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.