America can seem a discontented nation at times. Perhaps it is built into our DNA, since this is a country that was built by the those who weren’t content in the places they were born. This is a country that always felt a desire for more— more land, more resources, more wealth, and more security.
Perhaps because of our very nature, and because America has long been a prosperous nation, we don’t always take the time to reflect on the fundamental things for which we really should be thankful and strive to protect.
It’s worth looking back at Jan. 6, 1941, which was the year that then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the State of the Union address to Congress that later became known as his Four Freedoms speech. In it, FDR reiterated what he viewed as the four fundamental principles of a free and democratic society, including freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Those principles were ultimately enshrined in the Atlantic Charter and became a rallying cry of sorts for America and Britain as we fought during four long years of war to protect those very principles from fascist forces.
While FDR spoke during dark times that were soon to grow darker, Americans rallied in support of a society that understood the value of these four freedoms. In the 80-plus years since that speech, America has made considerable strides in not only protecting those freedoms but in extending them to more and more Americans who didn’t have the same kind of freedoms in the past that most other Americans enjoyed.
Perhaps because these freedoms are so fundamental to America, it’s easy to take them for granted. Yet, at a time of the year when we often take stock and reflect on the things in our lives for which to be grateful, it is worth considering these fundamental freedoms and recognize that they are an exception, not the rule, in this troubled world.
Most people on Earth do not have freedom of expression. Repressive governments around the world routinely imprison or even execute their own citizens for the things they say or write, or otherwise create. Expressing one’s true nature, or loving the wrong person, can be punishable by death in some parts of the world. This is a freedom here in America that we should recognize and seek to protect.
Our freedom to worship, which includes the freedom not to worship, as we see fit is another right for which we should be thankful. Government repression of religious belief is all-too-common around the world, but not here in America.
And while we, unfortunately, have too much inequality in America, we have made strides to ensure that even the poorest Americans have enough to eat. When we sit down to our Thanksgiving feasts this Thursday, we should all take a moment to recognize the plenty that America produces.
Finally, while every country has problems with violence, and America is a far more violent country than most, the vast majority of Americans live in remarkable safety compared to almost any other time in human history. At a time when entire cities are being destroyed in places like Ukraine or Gaza, we can be thankful that we, as Americans, are by and large free from the fear of bombs raining down over our heads.
We should give thanks for these freedoms and recognize that they provide the basis for America’s success. When we all have the right to express our views, worship as we please, don’t worry about our next meal, and feel secure in our own homes, we are all free to live to our full potential as people.
We recognize that America is far from perfect and there is much progress we must still make to ensure that all Americans fully share the benefits of these four freedoms. We also recognize that these freedoms are under threat from those who would use the power of the government to punish those who express differing views and those who belong to certain religions. We recognize that freedom from fear means taking steps to build a less violent America and freedom from want means doing more to provide for the basic needs of those who still struggle.
Yet there are few places in the world that can claim the kind of commitment to and progress toward the full flowering of these four fundamental freedoms as America. And that is something for which we should all be enormously thankful.