Thanksgiving as a Global Holiday

November 28, 2010

Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers. ~ Howard Thurman

I love the irony; what is considered a uniquely American holiday seems to bring out our most global attributes.

Here’s the scenario:

Cook all day for guests.Spend hours at the dinner table focused on the dishes, conversation and familyLay around afterwards with no goals other than digesting and hanging out.Watch a game on TV

If I spell the game “futbol” (or what the US calls “soccer”) then I have described a ritual that occurs weekend after weekend around the world. Thanksgiving seems to give us the excuse to return our Old World roots. Here we seem to remember what I find to be a delicious experience of making a day all about food and relationship.

This realization came about last Thursday when we included friends visiting from India, Lebanon and Panama at our dinner festivities. Each settled in naturally to what could have been a novel event of remembering the Pilgrims and commented that this reminded them most of home of any of their Montana-based activities.

I first fell in love with food and community-dominant cultures when I was an exchange student in Mexico thirty years ago. On Sundays, friends would host a carne asada or barbeque where we would spend the afternoon eating, dancing, and then when bored, we’d car pool over to another friend’s house to see what they might be doing. Hanging out was a fine art and a distinct contrast from growing up among productive Norwegian descendants in downtown Minneapolis.

Refining this cross-cultural skill I  find to be essential when working with international groups who spend one to five months with us at Montana State University. Since I love it so, I’m always looking for an opportunity to assemble the groups to hang out as a community, yet I now recognize that these gatherings are also one of the key to success for our programs. Drawing on our Thanksgiving roots, is not only personally fulfilling, but also really smart.

I recommend, as we all are called to be more globally-focused leaders, to search out your own opportunities to recreate Thanksgiving at other times with your groups. It’s not about the turkey, but how to allow those we might perceive as turkeys to become a more integrated part of your team. What small ways can you balance the work with the relationships as I described in an early post?

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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