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On Thanksgiving weekend, I give thanks for opportunities. Opportunity is what can change life from existence to exhilaration. Opportunity is what breathes life into dreams. Opportunity is what I wish for everyone. Here’s my list of five essential opportunities for which I give thanks.

Education

I had the opportunity to go to excellent primary and secondary schools and receive a wonderful education. I learned to read, write, reflect and relate. There are about 67 million children in the world who don’t have that opportunity. Every person deserves the opportunity for an education.

Health

I have the opportunity to live a healthy life. I have access to all the ingredients that make a healthy life possible. I have lived most of my life in Canada where I never had to worry about whether I could afford good health care if I needed it. There are millions of women in the world cannot expect even to live as long as I have. I am now 51 years old. In 17 countries in the world, I would have outlived my life expectancy by now! Some argue that good health is at the root of all opportunity. Norman Daniels said “The special moral importance of health derives from its impact on our opportunities. Thus it explains why protecting health is a social obligation.” I would agree. Every person deserves the opportunity for health – which in turn enables further opportunity.

Respect

I have the opportunity to be treated fairly and respectfully. I learned to “expect respect” from my parents who taught me to trust by the way they cared for me. Respect is the foundation that allows you to stand tall. A steady diet of receiving respect is what gives you the confidence to take the risks that are necessary for growth and learning. Every person deserves the opportunity for respect.

Community

I have the opportunity to enjoy family and community. My lively and supportive family is my home-base community and I feel welcome in many other fascinating communities. Community shapes us as we bump up against one another and cope with the rough edges in one another. Community helps us to learn when we discover that we don’t all think alike. Community fires our creativity as we address common problems and discover mutually helpful solutions. Every person deserves the opportunity to be surrounded by community.

Meaning

I have the opportunity to have a life with meaning and significance. Meaningful work is what gets us out of bed each morning. A wise older friend named Stella told me that one of her prayers goes like this: “Lord, give me life ’til my work is done. And give me work ’til my life is done.” She doesn’t mean “work” in the sense of a paying job – she means that sense that we have something significant to contribute to society each day. Every person deserves to know that their existence matters. Every person deserves the opportunity for a meaningful life.

At the International AIDS Conference in 2006, I sat near the front of the audience when former US President Bill Clinton addressed the crowd. Some of his words have stuck with me because they expressed the profound importance of opportunity. Here’s what he said:

“The longer I live and the more I travel, the more I realize that intelligence and effort and ability and dreams are evenly distributed across all of humanity in every country across all races, and religions and cultures. What is not evenly distributed are the mechanisms to give life to all those things. The opportunities, the investment, the systematic capacity that establishes a link between a person’s intelligence, ability, effort and dreams, and the picture of life that emerges.”

Some people idolize Walt Disney. Indeed his creative genius is to be respected. But I have always taken exception to a phrase that is often attributed to Disney. Apparently he said: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” That is nonsense. There are billions of people in this world with unfulfilled dreams. It is not dreams that are lacking in our world. It is opportunity. But imagine if those of us with opportunity could share what we have received and create a world of opportunity for all.

This little stick figure is my attempt to illustrate the opportunities for which I give thanks. The opportunity for education gives the capacity to study, to analyze and to innovate. The opportunity for health is the fuel that keeps us moving forward. The opportunity for respect is the foundation that supports a confident and peaceful life. The opportunity for community allows us to be continually reshaped, improved and re-invigorated. The opportunity for meaning allows us to employ the gifts we’ve received thereby making the rest of our opportunities seem worthwhile.

Clearly I have had a privileged life. But there is one more opportunity I seek: I want to enable others to have the opportunities I have had. I want to see what the world could look like if everyone had access to what I have received. I want a world of opportunity for all.

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