Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love celebrations, and I have always believed in living a life filled with gratitude and a sense of abundance, so I love the idea of setting aside a day to acknowledge our abundance and celebrate how truly blessed we are. And I love that a tradition like this that started way back in 1621 to celebrate the pilgrim’s first successful harvest still endures today.
Of course, America has evolved a lot since that first celebratory feast. Today, Thanksgiving also marks the launch of the holiday spending season, and the madness of Black Friday, when shoppers will be storming stores and clicking through online checkouts to cash in on great deals. (The Chinese mega-retailer Alibaba has already got the jump on the shopping frenzy, with their 11/11 sale bringing in a record $31 billion this year.) There’s no denying that Thanksgiving, as a shopping starting line, has also become an emblem of our consumer culture.
So how do we keep the meaning of Thanksgiving pure? Personally, I think we can accept the realities of today’s world, and take the commercial part of Thanksgiving in stride (and maybe even take advantage of a good deal we find), while still honoring the past and the purpose of the occasion. I think most of us do that instinctively - by necessity, we are participants in a national and global economy; at heart, we relish the love and belonging that comes from commitment to our country and our families, and we cherish the traditions that go with that.
For me, the family aspect of occasions like Thanksgiving keep taking on greater meaning. I find I am at an age where I am participating in more milestone events for people around me. This summer I was at the wedding of my nephew. Babies are being born. (One baby in particular I am very excited about - a new Manji is coming into the world, as my first grandchild is due to join us in a matter of days.) And yes, there is the painful process of saying goodbye, as just this month I lost a close first cousin and dear friend to a terrible cancer. All of those events stir up profound feelings - both of joy and sorrow - and they give even more meaning to the idea of being thankful for everything I have.
That’s part of the beauty of Thanksgiving - that we each bring our own meaning to it. We each have our own family traditions, our own special milestones of the year behind us, our memories of people we love and people we have lost that come to mind as we gather to celebrate. We also bring our own meaning to special concepts that define this holiday. So as we head into this Thanksgiving, I want to leave you with two words, and to ask you to think about what they mean to you.
This is an exercise I have been doing with members of my Advisory Board and with participants at our recent Practice Solutions Leadership workshop. As part of the process of creating a Practice Charter, I ask participants to identify certain words that make up the foundation of their values and to define them in a personal way. We isolated a number of key words, but there are two that I think are worth paying special attention to this weekend.
The first is gratitude, which of course is a word easily associated with Thanksgiving. In our exercise, we defined the word by saying,
“It comes from the heart. We appreciate what we have, the freedoms we enjoy, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. We show our gratitude by sharing our abundance - and our experiences.”
The other word is authenticity - which is about always being true to yourself and your values. We defined it like this:
“It’s caring from the heart and being the real deal. Walking the walk. Talking the talk. Never fake. Being authentic brings the benefits of trust, gratitude, and value. What you see is what you get.”
But I’m not introducing these words here to tell you what they mean. I present them to you now so that you can think about it and consider what they mean to you. And I mean really think about it. Too often, we hear words like this, especially in the context of Thanksgiving, and they just wash over us. They are pleasant sounds. We take the meaning behind the words for granted, to the point where there is little meaning at all.
So I suggest that you take a moment, amid all the holiday festivities, to meditate on the meaning of these words. Think about how you define them, in terms that are uniquely personal to you. What do you think of when you ponder the meaning of gratitude? What does it mean to you to be authentic? Create your own definitions, using your own terms. Reclaim these words from the vast vocabulary of the culture at large and charge them with new personal significance. It is a simple and powerful way to purify your Thanksgiving experience. When you start to embrace these words at a higher level, you realize that it can be Thanksgiving every day. And as you can see in the picture, Kenya and Winston agree with that.
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