“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
For me, Thanksgiving is a time to remember. This year, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of the story of Sacajawea. Without her, Lewis and Clark would never make it into the history books; instead, they would end up freezing to death or dying from attacks or accidents. Sacajawea is the one who made it all happen. For some reason, the unselfishness of this woman who carries a baby on her back and leads these men, who she really has no enlightened self-interest in, across America, has been on my mind a lot lately.
This story reminds me of how grateful we should be to that piece of history. And it leads me to remember that somebody also carried us on their backs. We did not get to where we are because we were born the children of kings. We are where we are in this world because of the kindness of other people. So, Thanksgiving for me, like many others, is a time of giving thanks for those kindnesses. The way I give thanks is by writing letters to people who have impacted my life in some way that year. In some cases, I am sure they are people who do not remember me or do not remember the kindness or knowledge that they gave me, but it is really an important time for me to be introspective and show gratitude in this way.
I also think Thanksgiving is a time to remember that even though we are blessed to live in this great country, we often forget that there are those among us where Thanksgiving means a time of no school lunch available or where it is cold in the house during the day. As much as I would like Thanksgiving to be a Norman Rockwell painting for everyone: family gathering around the table with a perfectly roasted turkey, mashed potatoes in a heaping bowl and pumpkin pie; it’s not. We have folks who the only pumpkin pie they might get is from McDonalds, which means we have a responsibility to remember that and where we can, be generous. Be generous with our time, our talent and our treasure. Be generous in giving to organizations that feed people this time of year. Maybe it is feeding them for a holiday meal or simply reminding ourselves of ways we can share little kindnesses, like holding the door open for a stranger.
As you reflect upon Thanksgiving this year, remember the story of Sacajawea carrying the baby on her back as she forged the way for Lewis and Clark. Think about who else carried you on their backs and sacrificed for you. Then think about who you might be lifting up, and what lessons you might be able to share. That is what leaders do.
Leadership is not a title, a position or some letters on your business card; it is about impacting people’s lives in seemingly small ways. This time of year as we go from Thanksgiving to, in my family’s tradition, Christmas and into the New Year, I hope we all remember that somebody carried us on their back and, in a small way, that we would do the same.
Question: In what ways do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Who can you show extra gratitude in the coming weeks?