Two traditions are strongly associated with corporate America and Thanksgiving.
One is putting in time at a homeless shelter or mission of some sort to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to those who otherwise could not have one.
The other is public pronouncements of “what you’re thankful for.”
Neither of these is objectionable.
But if we mean it when we say Thanksgiving is about gratitude, it pays to consider what it really means to give thanks.
Psalm 100 is titled “A Psalm for Giving Thanks.” It’s only five verses, so here’s the whole thing:
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
If this is God’s instruction to us for how we’re to express gratitude, it doesn’t actually require that much in any concrete sort of way. It calls us to be glad and express our gladness through song. It calls us to recognize and acknowledge whoever it is who blessed you. It calls us to enter into the presence of whoever blessed you with praise.
But it doesn’t require us to, say, give something in return, or to consider there to be some sort of debt owed back for a blessing. The whole point of being generous or good to someone else is that you do it out of love and genuine interest in that person’s well-being – and that the other person’s resulting well-being is its own reward for the giver.
So what is the message in this for corporate America? Most of what we get, we get because we earn it, so the things that come to us are not so much blessings of generosity as they are compensation for value delivered. You might thank a customer or a client for paying his or her bill, but most of the time you probably don’t because it’s simply the nature of business that they pay you for your work.
But maybe we should thank our clients for having confidence in us, or for working with us to understand what they need so we can deliver it, or for taking the time to consider what it is we would like to do for them.
Maybe we should even thank the would-be customers or clients who don’t hire us, but at least took the time to give it some thought. After all, that’s time they’ll never get back, and they expended it because of us.
We probably don’t have to thank our employees for the work they do, since we pay them after all. But maybe we should thank them for the trust they show in us when they agree to become our employees, or for the decisions they make to be good teammates, or for every day they make the decision to remain with us instead of moving on to somewhere else.
We might even thank our competitors, if nothing else, for competing with us honestly and giving us a fair shot.
And in the case of all of the above, it’s probably sufficient to say thank you and leave it at that. But maybe it’s even better to honor those who warrant our thanks by treating them in a way that honors them and confirms for them that they made a good decision when they did right by us.
Of course, business leaders should practice this kind of gratitude every day, not just when the calendar says, “Thanksgiving Day.” But perhaps the existence of that day serves us best by prompting the question we’ve attempted to answer here.