Thanksgiving is upon us. It is a day of both joy and dread. Football and food comas. A day off… to enjoy stressful, late-night savings. And one can’t forget family time and… uh oh… a whole day with the family? Like it or not, Thanksgiving is a tradition. A mixed bag, but a tradition nonetheless.
You’ll be hard pressed to get through the Thanksgiving holiday without some mention of the story of the first Thanksgiving dinner. You know… the one where the Pilgrims were on the verge of starvation until the locals came and supplied them with a massive feast, helping to keep them alive for the winter. Which begs the question, does karma exist? Or does karma take a really, really, really long view on things? But I digress.
Like about 91.2% of bloggers out there, I was interested in doing a Thanksgiving blog with a unique take on turkeys. I was having a hard time finding anything interesting, new and relevant, until I stumbled upon the symbolic meaning of turkeys.
To many native cultures in North America, the turkey represents abundance, giving, and community – all things one would associate with Thanksgiving. I then learned about a Native American practice called The Giveaway, which encapsulates the meaning of the turkey.
The Giveaway is a cultural phenomenon whereby status is achieved in a group by giving away your most prized possessions without the expectation of receiving anything in return. The Giveaway concept was something practiced by many native tribes, so much so that the origins of the practice can’t be pinpointed to a specific group. It was ingrained in the collective culture. The Giveaway was typically done within the context of an event or a ceremony, but not always. For example, in the Lakota tradition, if someone died, many times their family would give away their most prized possessions to others as a way to honor the loved one who had passed on.
There are also countless examples of individuals who had accumulated great wealth who would then give ‘everything’ he/she owned away as a way to gain honor and status within their tribe. Possessions were meant to be given, not owned. Also, gifts received were expected to be used; otherwise, it was viewed as a sign of disrespect. By the way, to the person who gave me the Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spa circa 2008, well… uh… I’m sorry.
What a simple, yet countercultural concept. Can you imagine giving away your house, car and all of your possessions as a way to gain honor? Talk about having guts and courage! If I were to see someone do that, I would be pretty amazed at their selflessness, but I also have to admit it would be difficult for me not to judge them. “Sucker! It’s 35 degrees here in Wisconsin. You’re in for a long winter!” I kid. I kid…
But is this just a Native American concept? Saint Francis of Assisi appeared to be a big fan of The Giveaway:
“He [St. Francis] was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.” (Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (1924). St. Francis of Assisi (14 ed.). Garden City, New York: Image Books. Pp. 107-108).
There are countless other current and historical figures that lived out his philosophy.
Now I’m curious as to what a true ‘giveaway’ culture would look like in the business world. What would our workplaces be like if those who were the most honored were those who ‘gave away’ the most to those around them? What would happen to titles? Would we value the title of custodian the most? Would helping your coworker obtain a promotion outweigh the desire for our own promotion? I can see it now… fights start erupting over who can help who. No one takes credit for anything. I bet the purpose and organizational culture of corporations would even shift. Would businesses all implode and cease to exist? I think not, but a corporate ‘giveaway’ culture would be an interesting experiment.
So with Thanksgiving upon us, what do you plan to ‘give away’ this holiday season? And if a true ‘giveaway’ leader existed, how would they compare to a ‘servant’ leader? Please leave your comments below.