The Gift of Civil Discussion

Plus: An unusual list of things to be grateful for

Black-and-white photo of a roast turkey
Getty; The Atlantic

This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Last week I asked, “For whom or what are you thankful this year?”

One thing I’m thankful for this year are the emails that you send each week. As this newsletter began, I hoped that a community of this sort could have conversations on topics of controversy that avoided the worst aspects of what plagues public discourse on social media. Months into this experiment, I’m pleased to report that while I get far more emails each week than I can publish, almost none are abusive or even trolly. Collectively, you’ve managed to opine on some of the most controversial issues of the day from a wide variety of perspectives in a manner that’s hearteningly thoughtful and constructive. Thank you for helping to make the work of assembling this a privilege rather than a chore.

Thank you as well to Jaleelah, the correspondent with the longest streak of consecutive replies to my questions. This week, she wrote to say that she is thankful for all four of her grandparents:

I’m grateful that they’re all alive and healthy.

My paternal grandfather taught me chess. He also insists on buying me candy from Dollarama every time he visits even though I’m now an adult. My paternal grandmother tells me stories about her childhood in Palestine and teaches me to cook her mother’s dishes. She also gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received (“If you’re feeling tired, sad, or stressed out, go wash your face with cold water”). My maternal grandfather comes up with new jokes to tell every time he speaks with me. My maternal grandmother sends me pictures of the flowers in her garden. The two of them send me thoughtful emails about their lives and frequently ask about mine. I know that many people aren’t as lucky as me. Still, I am sad that I haven’t seen my grandparents in a long time. They live far away in Ohio and Alberta. Nevertheless, I carry their support and wisdom in my heart everywhere I go.

At 42, I’m thankful enough to have three grandparents still living. I too carry all of them in my heart, along with my late grandmother and the three great-grandparents I got to meet.

Mike, on the other hand, expressed gratitude for the support he’s received through a period of health problems:

This Thanksgiving is not going to be one spent with friends and family gathered around a table. My wife and I will spend the day at the hospital, working through my stem-cell transplant needed to treat multiple myeloma. This treatment results in a severely compromised immune system, so being around people is not something I can do for a couple of months.

That might sound a touch bleak for Thanksgiving, but this situation really brings into focus the many things I have to be thankful for: a great team of doctors and nurses to get me through this; an excellent caregiver in my wife; my family, which is scattered around the country but is constantly checking in. Their love and concern is evident in every conversation. My local support group, which consists of our older daughter and her husband (who are in the area) and a bunch of dear friends and neighbors who never stop offering to help.

Before we could do the transplant, we had to talk with a social worker. One of her concerns was what would happen if my wife got sick and couldn’t handle the caregiving chores––was there anyone else who could help? That’s when it really hit us. They ask those questions because there are people who don’t have the friends and family around them to back them up. That’s not something that we had thought about at all, and we left that interview a little stunned at how incredibly fortunate we are to have these people in our lives. As I was writing this, some friends offered to bring by a Thanksgiving supper for us. We may not be able to enjoy it with them, but we’ll be thinking of them and the rest of these wonderful people in our lives with every bite.

We’re pulling for you, Mike.

Pat describes a return to loved ones:

After 13 years away, my husband and I moved back to our hometown, primarily to be with family. It was a super-good move, despite the not-as-good weather here! And we just had the most marvelous Thanksgiving with our adult grandchildren—so wonderful to see how they have developed as they’ve grown up. The return to “home” has let a lot of anxiety melt away and replaced it with joy.

Finally, I want to note the most unusual list of things to be thankful for that I encountered this year, published at the blog Dynomight and titled “Underrated reasons to be thankful.” An example:

That Brussels sprouts used to be terrible but in the 1990s we noticed that was because of glucosinolate and then seed companies found old low-glucosinolate varieties and cross-bred them with modern high-output varieties and now Brussels sprouts are great and also that this was all evidently seen as natural enough not to trigger team no-science-in-my-food.

There are 29 other items here. I’ll see you later this week.