A Reflection of Meaning
Although Thanksgiving has come and gone, the spirit that it ushers in is one of charity, thankfulness, well-wishes and acts of kindness. This spirit has a tendency to last through year’s end, but what of the other months in the year? Where does this spirit go, but most importantly, why does it go? State of the Re:Union contributor Rich Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation shares some of his reflections on Thanksgiving, including the proverbial turkey chase, what it means to us and how it intertwines with our daily lives.
I’ve never been on a real turkey chase, and maybe you haven’t either, but with the passing of Thanksgiving, I suspect we’re all in pursuit of something. But where will your own chase lead you, and why are you headed there? Here are some thoughts concerning “the chase” to think about as you reflect over this recent Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season.
Turkeys hold a special place in American culture — from defining early historical meals and current Thanksgiving menus, to Wild Turkey whiskey, to calling something we deem unsatisfactory “a turkey!” It was even the bird Benjamin Franklin suggested be our national symbol instead of the bald eagle. And on every Thanksgiving, there are all kinds of “turkey runs,” 5K and 10K races sponsored in support of some charitable cause.
And yet, the notion of “a chase” conjures up the pursuit of the unattainable. Think: “chase dreams,” where you cannot bring closure or finality to something in your life. Think: “ideals,” which we strive to place within our grasp, knowing that they may never be fulfilled. According to Wayne Capooth, in Delta Farm Press, “Turkey chases have been a part of American history since our earliest days. Samuel Kercheval in his A History of the Valley (Shenandoah), 1833, said “the native youth is taught the wiles of the turkey hunter.”
This season you may be “chasing” your own way to a holiday gatherings. Maybe it is across town, or in another community, or at your home. But, wherever the places you go, this time of year puts each of us in a precarious bind: running to complete our work, running to get somewhere, running to get back to work. That’s me too.
I’m in the middle of writing a new book about how people can make good on their urge to do good. There are many subtexts at work, but there are two that shed light on the notion of the turkey chase.
First, there is the pressure of inwardness, which is our proclivity to see our work in public life through the prism of promoting and spreading our own efforts. Inwardness tells us to start with our own needs and programs, rather than the community in which we live and work. The second factor is the push for busyness — a kind of “activity happy, yet action deprived” approach. Such busyness can make us feel we are doing something, moving ahead, and soothing our own anxieties about the lack of progress. But for all the running, all the activity, little changes.
I raise the ideas of inwardness and busyness because they launch us on a chase of the unattainable. If we are not careful, we risk losing sight of what we care about, and what change or goodness we hope to effect. What about you?
What is that path for you? Is it the “chase” — the proverbial unattainable, unachievable, even undesirable; or, is it something that you should stop to see and feel and know? There is something noble about Thanksgiving, [the start to the holiday season] about how it has the power to halt our busyness and inwardness; for many, it creates the space that might not otherwise exist to come together with family and friends (however difficult that can sometimes be!).
Maybe it is trite to say that this Thanksgiving should be about something doable, and that is intrinsically decent: giving thanks. It’s a simple idea, I know, and one that you have already thought about. But it may not be something we each do.
As we go through this holiday season, what are some ways we can integrate the hallmarks of Thanksgiving and this season into our daily lives? What does the “chase” mean to you, and how does it intertwine with your everyday living? How do you make your busyness count? Is it satisfying with how you spend your time, or do you think your “activity” could include notes of “action” offering more fulfillment? You can tell us, we always have an ear to bend your way.
A dynamic public speaker, Rich Harwood is a frequent keynote for foundations and national organizations. He is an expert contributor on national and syndicated media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN’s Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Special Report with Brit Hume, C-SPAN, and many others. He is also the author of Hope Unraveled: The people\’92s retreat and our way back (2005), Make Hope Real: How we can accelerate change for the public good (2008) and numerous studies, articles and essays chronicling vital issues of our time. His most recent written work, Why We\’92re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward, is being published and distributed in Spring 2011. You can follow him on twitter @RichHarwood and facebook.com/richharwood.
You can read Rich’s posts every Tuesday on State of the Re:Union’s website.