Thanks From Down Under

By
Paul Reuter, Chairman emeritus and contributing editor

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Trapped underground, the lead miner is dramatically rescued and greeted by his longtime foe, the mining engineer. How will they look at each other? What will happen next?

“These two men, with their contempt for each other—the rebellious workman and the skeptical master—drew themselves on each other’s necks, sobbing loudly in the deep upheaval of all the humanity within them.”

This story is not what you might think. This is the classic 19th century French novel “Germinal” by Emile Zola, which portrays the trials and taints of the world of mining, yet offers a glimpse of humanity’s potential.

 Last month, the world was gripped by arguably the most dramatic rescue ever seen on TV. Viewers from China, Kuwait, India and virtually every outpost across the globe watched from their homes or on their laptops as 33 Chilean miners emerged one by one to be greeted by family, friends, rescuers and their nation’s president, Sebastian Pinera.

It wasn’t long ago, in early August, that the mine—a half-mile underground— had collapsed. For 17 days, the men were cut off from all communication. Most considered them dead, buried alive and never to be seen or heard from again. In fact, leaders of the Chilean government and the mining company debated whether to even undertake a search effort that would cost tens of millions of dollars.

As we near the national holiday of thanks, I am emboldened by the spirit and genuine care we shared for men we previously had never heard of in a remote land few of us has ever visited. Despite this personal and physical distance, we were connected. The Chilean miners became our close cousins, their safe rescue our personal concern. We got to know more about them than they probably wanted us to. We learned about their strengths, their character and their foibles. We learned who were the leaders, who were the elders, and who thought their final days had come.

The rescue was the ultimate reality show. And the conclusion was the ultimate feel-good ending.

I wish I could say the same about our national politics. Regardless of your political affiliation and how you feel about the recent midterm elections, I am concerned about the continued downturn in our ability to debate civilly. Whether it’s calling Tea Party members fascists and racists, or Democrats closet communists, the debate in this nation has become rife with toxicity. In the run-up to November’s elections, we heard candidates accused of idolatry, being Marxists and supporting abhorrent behavior.

The lack of substantive civil debate makes me wonder what we are truly thankful for: Are we thankful for the incredible freedoms we are all so blessed to have in this country? Are we thankful for being allowed to travel freely, seek employment without fear of discrimination and spend quality time with our families without government intervention?

The Chilean miners were a diverse lot, from age to politics to lifestyle. Yet they came together. Frankly, they had no other choice. At stake was their very survival. Still, they learned how to work together, how to ration food and water supplies, how to give each other enough privacy to help them endure more than two months in the bowels of the earth. How do we take the lessons of the miners and make them relevant in our own personal lives?

How do we embrace the world’s common spirit that flickered for a day or two and turn it into a permanent flame for good? How do we say thank you on Thanksgiving Day and know exactly why we are saying it? 

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