It is good that we pause, hundreds of millions of us, for at least one day, to give thanks. In our turbulent and uncertain moment, we must balance loss and disruption with recognition of what good we enjoy in being alive, and connected, and with some sense of how we can move into a better and more humane future, together.
Personally, I am thankful for my wife, Gina, and the richness and warmth of our life together. I am thankful for family and friends, most of whom I have been unable to visit throughout this pandemic. And, I am thankful for the people I work with, who are dedicated to improving our shared future and protecting the most vulnerable from preventable harm.
Giving thanks is healing; it infuses the world around us with dignity, clarity, and meaning. My hope is we can all do more of that in the way we live with each other. The beauty and power of living together in open society lies in our basic duty to an ongoing project of collaborative problem-solving.
That duty requires us to recognize the 776,000 fellow Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the searing loss that means for their families and communities. We must also pause to remember the more than 100,000 American lives lost to drug overdose in 2020. The horrific number is an all-time high, and came amid lockdowns and social isolation. Most of these nearly 900,000 deaths were preventable. We have to do far better as a society welcoming, empowering, and caring for each other.
We should also pause to remember that more than 5,170,000 have been killed by COVID, globally. Every one of them is a loss of irreplaceable life. Today, the World Health Organization is holding an emergency meeting focused on a new COVID variant of concern. The B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, which could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and, if highly transmissible, displace the Delta variant as the most prevalent and fast-spreading worldwide.
New variants emerge when there is a significant level of community spread, with frequent virus replication, making mutations more likely. Vaccine inequity and vaccine hesitancy are creating opportunities for unchecked spread of this deadly virus and for new variants. Scientists in South Africa have given us an early warning. Keeping it from spreading globally will depend on actions all of us take. Together, we hold the fortunes of millions in our hands today.
Our gratitude should be actively expressed by doing everything possible to stop the spread of this disease, to avoid millions more preventable deaths.
Over the last 2 years, major structural components of our civilization have managed to keep working, but imperfectly and unevenly. Hundreds of millions of people have been plunged into poverty and face ongoing food insecurity. Labor markets are roiled partly by the fact that jobs exposing people to hardship and danger pay too little for the risk involved. That reality is now impossible to deny, so all human systems must begin to adjust to the resulting awareness, and do better.
The economic adjustments are not going smoothly for most countries, and restoring balance between prices, incomes, habits, and incentives will take months, maybe years. It is clear we will have to reinvent that balance in ways that will be better for everyone, or we might find ourselves in a state of permanent volatility.
Gratitude and respect for the dignity and humanity of others makes room for much clearer thinking. We should strive to protect each other, because we are all human and right is right. COVID is also showing us that failing to protect others allows new dangers to arise that threaten us all. This same dynamic applies to climate responsibility, peace and security, and fiscal stability.
Let’s be thankful for the people we love and who bring beauty to our lives. Let’s strive to look at the landscape of our experience and what comes next in a soft light of renewal and prepare to confront the big and never-finished work of making a world that works every day for everyone.