Thanksgiving Lessons

<p>While seasonal harvest festivals have long been part of the American tradition, the modern origins of a national Thanksgiving Holiday are more recent. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln wrote: <br /><br /><em>In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict...Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore...and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. </em><br /><br />The message was one of not only thankfulness but of resilience; the idea that in the midst of great turmoil, the human spirit could not only weather but prosper. For Lincoln, declaring the fourth Thursday of every November a national holiday of thanksgiving was a recognition of our promise but also our smallness in the force of faces more powerful. Indeed, he continued the above quote with: <br /><br /><em>No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. </em><br /><br />Holidays are a good time for us to remember our smallness. When I say smallness, I do not mean it relative to any particular God one might happen to believe in, but in the sense of our total and utter interdependence upon one another. Paul Arntson, one of the lead faculty at the <a href="http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/abcd/">Asset Based Community Development Institute</a> defines "community" as groups of people who practice "consensual interdependence." <br /><br />To me, consensual interdependence means that we recognize that we have things others need, that others have things we need, and that need transcends simple mutual self-interest but is a binding force from which we create meaning. Markets are good at connecting buyers with sellers, but there is more to the exchange of human capital than products and services. <br /><br />Which is one of the reasons I remain so excited about the possibilities of a new social capitalism that respects and values not only profit maximization but environmental stewardship and social responsibility. While some have claimed that the economic crisis means an end to the flirtation with "business" strategies for the nonprofit sector, the promise of the social enterprise movement is not about the transfer of strategies but an openness to a new conversation about business in general. <br /><br />To the cynics of the movement, all I would say is think about the opportunities of this holiday season. Bake those pies with <a href="http://www.worldpantry.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/CategoryDisplay?cgmenbr=68... trade ingredients</a>. Turkey, eggnog, and all the rest? Buy <a href="http://www.portlandbuylocal.org/">local</a>, buy organic. As you begin shopping, you can give <a href="http://www.kiva.org">Kiva</a> or <a href="http://www.globalgiving.org">GlobalGiving</a> gift certificates, anti-sweat shop clothing, or, should you so choose, participate in a <a href="http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd">Buy Nothing Day</a> instead. Make sure to decorate with <a href="http://www.thegreenparent.com/2007/12/14/green-your-christmas-with-low-e... holiday lights</a>. While you're out and about, don't forget to enjoy a Starbucks drink, now supporting (<a href="http://red.starbucks.com/red/default.aspx">Red</a>) and <a href="http://fairtrade.change.org/blog/view/starbucks_uk_makes_100_fair_trade_... more Fair Trade certified coffee than anyone in the world. For the adventurous family, why not take a <a href="http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/index.html">volunteer vacation</a> this year? When there is a socially "good" option for everything you buy, it creates an incredibly new opportunity to change business as usual. <br /><br />I am thankful for the emergence of these opportunities, but also humble about their individual smallness in the scope of world change that we need. But if we believe, as Lincoln did, that Thanksgiving was about resilience, even in the midst of our current economic malaise, even in the midst of violent turmoil, the world seems full of hope and promise. Our job is to make it real.</p>