Thankful for courage, diplomacy, and rock n' roll

PLYMOUTH, Massachusetts – A few of my favorite things for which I am truly thankful: courage, rock n’ roll and diplomacy.

The American tradition of Thanksgiving is, of course, always open to sharp criticism from my friends and colleagues around the world. They love to point out the obvious and bitter irony of Thanksgiving. That is that we celebrate how Native Americans helped a group of religious pilgrims through the early harvests when they first landed on the shores of New England right here in Plymouth.

The bitter part comes, of course, with the history of how these indigenous people were treated in the many decades that followed. These global friends also like to point out just how American it is to have a national holiday in which we over-eat and sit on couches watching football.

Okay, these are fair and important, albeit a bit well-trodden, criticisms.

That said, it is still a great day for families to come together and for everyone to remember to be thankful. I passed through Plymouth last night on my way to Cape Cod where my wife, our four boys, and our whole extended family is gathering for the day.

So in no particular order, here’s a list of ‘a few of my favorite things’ (John Coltrane’s version of this melody is certainly one of them) for which I am truly grateful. 

Courage. Journalists around the world are risking their lives to bring us the stories that matter, and for that I am enormously grateful. As of yesterday, the International Press Institute informs us, 118 journalists had been killed so far in 2012, making it the worst year on record for killing the messenger.

There is heroic work done every day by brave writers, photographers and videographers in Syria, Gaza, Egypt, China, Russia, the Congo, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia and in every corner of the world. I am thankful for the work they all do, particularly those who contribute such powerful work to GlobalPost from their posts around the world. 

More from GlobalPost: Press in Peril: A Liberian reporter fights to write truth about female genital mutilation

Rock n’ roll. In the last week, I have spent an unusual bit of time in concert halls listening to live rock n’ roll. I was at The Who concert on Friday night and then saw Bob Dylan on Sunday. Neil Young is coming to town next and it is my great hope to catch the Rolling Stones later this month. This column is dedicated to ‘ground truth,’ and these musical storytellers have always been about that.

A lot of these bands, particularly the Stones, are celebrating 50 years of rockin’. These anniversaries happen to fall in the very same year that I am celebrating 50 years of living. I guess we are all just happy to still be alive and, well, still rockin’. About 30 years ago, when music played a much more prominent part of my daily life, I think all of us wondered what it would be like to be 50 years old with a touch of gray listening to Roger Daltrey belt out the words, ‘talkin’ about my generation,’ or to hear Dylan’s inflection on the words ‘when you ain’t got nothin’, you ain’t got nothin’ to lose.” But I can say with great confidence it is just as great to hear that music live at 50 as it was at 20.

Diplomacy. This year, we saw one of the great American diplomats, Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11. I met Ambassador Stevens a few times, and it was obvious right away that he was an ambassador who was not afraid to take risks to be out there among the people working toward building bridges and avoiding wars.

More from GlobalPost: Who was US Ambassador Chris Stevens?

All of the bitter political bickering around the events that caused his death seem to miss the point: we need our diplomats to take risks for peace, and we should not be too hyper-critical of the fact that he took a risk. The truce in Gaza feels tenuous to me, as I have seen too many ceasefires between Israelis and Palestinians fall apart, but I am truly thankful for the efforts to stop the fighting that were made by Secretary of State Clinton and Egypt’s President Morsi.

Great diplomacy involves great courage and taking a big risk in trusting that there is a better way forward than violence.