Sunday, November 27, 2005

This Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for...

As Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close, it seemed a good idea to compile a list of things that I am thankful for. Perhaps I will post it as a reminder for bad days.

· Good health – when we are sick, or have just recovered, we are consciously thankful. Other times we may forget. When our body is performing well, we may forget basic maintenance or even abuse it. I am thankful for good health and mindful that maintaining good health must be a priority.

· Sufficient income - Gandhi reminds us that ‘we have a enough for our needs, but not for our greeds.’ It seems as if major corporations invariably announce massive job cuts just before the Christmas holidays, as General Motors did this year. The announcements are invariably made by someone who is (a) not losing his job, (b) is earning a seven figure income and (c) speaks about the need to make ‘hard decisions’ which will mostly be hard for someone else. I am thankful that American University did not cut my job this year and in fact, the only job cut of which I am aware was at the top.

· Engaging, challenging work to do, mostly with people who are engaged, intelligent and idealistic – I am thankful for the opportunity to work at a university, and especially at American University. I am thankful for the diverse, committed group of human beings that are the Center for Teaching Excellence staff, for an equally committed and principled group of colleagues in the International Development Program and especially for my AU student ‘neighbors’ and friends in Anderson Hall.

· Some financial resilience – I am thankful not to be in debt and for having sufficient savings to cope with emergencies. To some degree at least, I know what it is like to be poor and at the effect of what seems to be an overwhelming mountain of debt. At age fifty, as a result of a divorce where I tried to make my first wife financially whole, I had negative assets (apart from a modest retirement fund that I could not access). I could not afford to furnish my rented apartment, apart from a couple of Japanese pillows (Zabutons). These circumstances preyed upon me, though many others were in far worse shape of course. Seventeen years later, there is some financial security, assets and resilience. The years of ‘not having’ motivate me to live more frugally, and to be thankful.

· Healthy children who seem well adjusted and fulfilled in the lives they are living – I am thankful that my children have defined themselves as human beings, enjoy good health and seem to take satisfaction in the lives they are living. I think of them as adults and friends. For the most part we do not seem to be burdened by the fact that they were once “children”: and I was once their “parent”. We enjoy our times together, and wish there were more of them, but are not dependent or needy. We are able to share the circumstances of our lives authentically and learn from each other.

· Opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others – I am thankful that responsibilities at American University gave me the opportunity to transform the working space of a new group of CTE staff members, the former Audio Visual Department and secure them compensation commensurate with the work they are doing. I was able to support one doctoral student in completing his dissertation and to help three others move forward with their work. I was able to help nurture the professional development of my staff and help provide them with a working environment that was empowering and fun. I was able to contribute, in small ways, to the lives of many students in Anderson hall, by sharing their experiences as a visible faculty presence.

· Completing and publishing, my book Paradise Poisoned - I am thankful that this eighteen year project finally produced a published book, which was well received by many that I respect. In particular, I am thankful that among many Sri Lankan readers who commented, publicly and privately, none accused me of bias toward a particular faction in the nation’s highly charged political culture or of disrespect.

International development scholar/practitioners, by the nature of the work we do, are particularly conscious of human suffering in the world. Events in Sri Lanka, Darfor, Palestine, Iraq, Zimbabwe and many other settings are a part of daily reality. Hopefully this makes me more aware of all that I have to be thankful for and more conscious of my obligations.


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