Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the United States, which means that we have moved into late November and early Winter. It’s always a transition time, with the reds and golds of Autumn giving way to dormant brown and, eventually, snow white. Lots of people don’t care for November here in the upper Midwest of the country, but I love it. It’s another promise of change and of time moving on, hallmarks of getting out of the “comfort zone,” and that’s a good place for us to be. But this month has already presented a series of “moments” for me, three significant days in a row, even before the promise of turkey.
The first day of note was the U.S election. To my knowledge, and certainly in my experience, there has never been a contest as coarse, demeaning, undignified and as utterly devoid of fact as the election of 2016. Much has been written about the candidates’ behaviors by others (nearly everyone), but from the perspective of one rather ordinary citizen, I characterize the fiasco as an event which oozed disgrace and lack of civility at every turn. If this is, in fact, democracy in action, then my own sensitivities suggest that we search for an alternative form of government altogether.
Yet the discouragement and even despair that I felt during this election season is ironically what made the second day of my November journey stand out so brightly. On the day following the election, I met with both the Managing Director and the Program Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. We convened to meet one another for the first time, to talk about some of the new aspirations for the Forum and to discuss a potential presentation by Winds of Peace at next year’s assembly. The conversation was a stimulating and hopeful one.
I mean, how could it NOT have been, when elements of the discourse included the names of past laureates, the efforts being made around the world to convene peaceful resolution of conflict. Yes, members of the Tunisian Quartet, the 2015 recipients of the Peace Prize, would be in attendance. President Obama has been invited, in addition to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is among the faculty at peace and conflict resolution institute in Hawaii. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be in attendance, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. And many others, less celebrated and completely anonymous, will be present over those days to talk about their own initiatives and experiences with peace-building. Against the glow of enthusiasm and commitment of my hosts, a feeling of hope seemed to lift me a bit straighter in my chair. I walked back to my car with a little more bounce in my step, I think.
On the third day of this sequence, I was to speak to a University of St. Thomas class about the work being done by the Foundation, and how it mirrors, in many ways, the strategies and attitudes brought into play in my former for-profit organization, Foldcraft Co. I arrived on campus a little early, so I took advantage of the beautiful morning and walked around for a while, taking in the surroundings and feeling the promise that only a university campus can provide. Quickly I noticed the scores of banners hung around every sidewalk and building, which read, “All for the common good.” I was struck by the rightness and optimistic promise of that phrase and truly moved to see its presence everywhere. It was an advent to the class experience to follow.
The presentation went well ( I was told). The class participants were engaged and curious and full of outward excitement at ideas of organizational wealth-sharing, broad participation and transparency, collaborative work and rewards, and the practice of capitalism without distinction of class, the sanctity of human worth. The questions penetrated the essence of broad ownership and widespread involvement. The students were intrigued and enthused. I was pumped and energized. Together, we had a good time. After the class period, several students asked for my business card so that we might talk further about the marriage of business and social responsibility. On this day, I did not notice a bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; I rather had the sense of floating
Within the span of three days, I experienced the lows and the highs that I know are inevitably a part of our human existence. The outcome to all of it was simply this: I am reminded that the lows are to be found wherever we choose to see them. There are enough to bring the entirety of mankind to its knees and complete dysfunction. But just as assuredly, the highs are at least as numerous, and carry the potential to raise us above the mire of surrender. It’s a matter of where one’s gaze seeks direction. With heads down, we see the world as a dark place, indeed, and its paths lead to seemingly endless disappointment and loss. But there is a great deal more to seen with heads up, absorbing the brighter prospect, allowing us to see and draw strength from the hope that still does surround us.
All of which leads me to the fourth important day of this month, the one during which we are encouraged to be thankful for every blessing of our lives. What a great idea, gratitude. What a terrific posture for looking up, noticing the uplift that surrounds us, for acknowledging and embracing it, and for choosing to be the very engine for change, “all for the common good.”
Wow, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed….