This Thanksgiving, be thankful to live in America

Clay Olsen

No country is superior. No country’s actions are more noble than any other. No country’s laws are better than another. No country is exceptional. Besides serving as a review for your final examination in Anthropology, these opening sentences will serve as an antithesis to the rest of my column. It is unfortunate that we so often hear and are even taught these things. 

People speak of the suppression that America imposes while men, women and children are being slaughtered in countries outside the U.S. for not having the same beliefs as those in power. In North Korea, citizens are killed at the will of a man who proclaims to be a god. I am not stating that because we are not “that bad” we have nothing to fret about. I am simply stating that this week, you should shut out these voices that look down upon our country, understand how lucky you are to be in this country and be thankful.

Here are some of the reasons:

First, our country wields the most powerful military in the world. What makes this particularly amazing is that it is entirely volunteer based. Individuals selflessly offer their service to their country and risk their lives for her safety and the safety of others. We also live in a country where you are free to complain about a conflict that our military is involved in without personally having to sacrifice anything or know anything about said conflict. Courageous men and women have died for this right.

Second, while much of the world lives in hunger and thirst with unbelievable poverty rates and no access to clean water, we live in a country in which obesity is a serious health issue. We are the country whose citizens go to war against foreign destitution. We develop organizations to bring clean water to villages in need. We send doctors to heal the sick. 

The average American household made $51,939 last year. This means that half of American households were in the top 15 percent of richest people in the world in 2013. Individuals that receive $13,750 in income, benefits, student loans, etc. are in the top 10 percent of richest people in the world. Those above the U.S. poverty line ($11,670), which is approximately 85 percent of Americans, are in the top 15 percent of the richest people in the world. 

My intent in bringing these facts to light is for you to have a sense of perspective. You are lucky to be an American where you have the opportunities to gain an education and gain a decent living. We have come to mistake the “American Dream” as a path to become extremely wealthy. This is a lie! The American Dream is not about reaching a certain level of wealth. It is about having the opportunity to have a job, put in work and have the ability to keep the product of your labor. 

Last semester I volunteered at a community tax center here in Austin completing tax returns for low-income families. One day a man and his wife sat down in the chairs beside me. They handed me their paperwork, and I began to enter their information into a computer. I asked them about their lives, how they came to be in the chairs they were sitting in. They were from Cuba. Several years ago they had entered a lottery in Cuba. The prize: $50 million? No. The prize was an American work visa. They won the lottery, and moved to Texas with their daughter. They both found jobs and paid for English lessons. In 2013, they made $43,000, they bought their first house with their savings and their daughter was halfway through medical school. That is the definition of the American Dream. The name of the man from Cuba was Luis. He did not speak jealously about this country. Rather he gave thanks to the opportunity that it gave to him and his family. This Thanksgiving, I remember Luis and what he taught me about the country I live in.

Olsen is a finance senior from Argyle.