Thanksgiving? Who's kidding whom?

Thanksgiving is a holiday at war with our culture, an idea at odds with our reality, a notion that challenges the way we live.

This is the week we hear everything about what we don't have and can't do, about the challenges we face and how ill-prepared and powerless we are to meet them.

You know what I mean. Some of it you can laugh at. Most of it isn't funny, or meant to be. The challenge of cooking a moist turkey, as if turkey isn't destined to be dry. The challenge of avoiding eating too much, when you're surrounded by food. The challenge of not gaining weight over the holidays, when almost everyone does. The challenge of not spending too much, not buying the wrong thing, when everything is so expensive and you have no way of knowing what's wrong. The challenges of holiday travel, of traffic jams and delayed flights, lost baggage and missed connections, all things you simply can't control.

The challenge of imperfect families, thoughtless relatives, empty chairs at the table and empty places in our hearts.

How can you feel thankful when all the messages that surround us are about what's wrong and can't be righted, what's missing and can't be filled in, what's beyond us and behind us? How can you feel grateful when you are constantly told about what you don't have, can't do, won't get?

Everywhere we look, we're told how to be better, younger, thinner, richer, smarter, and the not-so-subtle prompt is that what we are, who we are, what we have, is not enough.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for acceptance and forgiveness, for seeing our way past our differences, for civility between opponents.

But the world we live in isn't one that prizes those values, rewards those traits, recognizes those goals.

Turn on the television and radio, and the most successful people are almost always the nastiest, the ones who are best at belittling, most condescending, most unforgiving. They fight hard, hit back, overwhelm and overpower. We say it's edgy, when what we should say is that it's mean. We say it's amusing, when what we should say is that it's degrading.

I watch the political debates where strength and success are measured by how much you attack, how pointed your barbs are, how squarely your assaults land. Obama had a good debate a few weeks ago not because he said anything new, or added to his platform, but because he was on the attack. Hillary won last week because of what all the reporters are calling her "counter-offensive," because Obama didn't stay on the attack, because Edwards' jabs fell short. The peacemakers get nowhere, a mention at the end.

Go on-line and the viciousness is palpable. People say things in e-mail and on blogs they would never say to your face. They express opinions they would never own up to in person. What has happened to us?

I want my children to grow up to have drive and amibiton. But I also want them to feel that what they do, what they accomplish, what they have, is enough; that more is not always better, and farther is not always further. I want them to believe that who they are and what they do is enough, to measure success in kindness as well as coin. I want them to succeed in this culture but I also want them to keep it at arm's length, to live by better rules than the ones it enforces.

I want to feel that way myself.

The challenge of Thanksgiving is not to make a better turkey, not to lose 10 pounds, not to get there first or faster or cheaper, or with the most money in your pocket or the most gold stars on your forehead. It's to remember that those things don't really matter, and to be grateful for what does.

Happy Holidays. God bless.


Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless. "

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.

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Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless. "

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.