by Joan Rachlin
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” —Cicero Everyone’s talkin’ turkey these days, and I can’t seem to avoid being besieged by information regarding hot cooking tips. Did you know that: - Brining is back (it locks in the moisture)? - Frozen birds often taste better than a fresh one, depending on transit time for the latter? - The tofurkey craze is not a craze at all? In fact, it’s celebrating its 15th birthday and sales are skyrocketing. But who am I fooling? I don’t want to avoid this inundation of turkey tips, because like so many others, I love Thanksgiving! I relish the colorful and delicious meal, enjoy being with family and friends, endure the football watchers who commandeer the living room, and generally appreciate the non-denominational come-on-come-all inclusivity of the day. I wish, though, that the media were as interested in the true meaning of the holiday as they are in the food. Then again, the questionable symbolism of this holiday goes back to the original Thanksgiving feast when, as the story goes, tolerant and eager-to-learn pilgrims were hosted by the American Indians, who welcomed the newcomers. When myths underlie the meaning of any tradition, the foundations tend to be shaky, and so it is with the rosier-than-real message of Thanksgiving. But how do we begin to change the message and expand the meaning of this day? We each must decide what the holiday means to us as individuals, but we can rely on some old and trusted guideposts to help show us the way. Would you believe that the Belmont principles are apt here, too? They really do have wide application, no? First, we can respect the hardships and losses of both the pilgrims and the American Indians, as well as those of the many other immigrants and indigenous people the world over. We can similarly honor and respect the courage of President Abraham Lincoln, who declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War; he understood that healing and reconciliation could best be advanced through an expression of gratitude for blessings large and small. Beneficence is the second Belmont principle, and in its simplest form, means “being kind” and “doing good.” This is where the “thanks” come in, as each of us has benefitted from people who have “done good” on our behalf. In human subjects research, I have been struck by the manner in which some institutions and individuals actively care about and for the subjects. Similarly, some of PRIM&R’s IACUC professionals have told me about their annual ceremonies honoring the animals that make research possible. Justice is the final principle, and this is the easiest one to apply to Thanksgiving. One of the most iconic Thanksgiving symbols is the horn of plenty, which symbolizes abundance of the harvest, and we can best embody the meaning of justice by ensuring that our abundance and wealth, both as individuals and as a society, are shared with those who are less fortunate. The core principles that underlie the Belmont Report are rooted in the human condition. We are all connected, and can only get by with a lot of help from our friends and family (apologies to the Beatles). So I end this Thanksgiving missive as I end so many of my thoughts and writings… I am grateful, really, really grateful, for this community of ours. I am grateful for the fact that you are committed to living your professional lives with ethics as the guiding star. I am grateful for my family, my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors, my healthcare-givers, and for those unseen, unheard individuals who do the things that make my comfort and joy possible. We all have so much to be thankful for. They say that one of the secrets of life is wanting what you have, rather than having what you want, and a corollary of that truism is that what we want is not always what we need. I hope to work ever harder to give thanks for blessings large and small in my life and in PRIM&R’s organizational life. Each of you is on our list of people for whom we are thankful at this season of thanks giving and always! Enjoy every morsel and mouthful!
by Joan Rachlin