Prior to Thanksgiving this year, I spoke with a partner who opened my eyes to a different perspective of Thanksgiving. It’s been on my mind ever since.
There are 12 Federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day (Indigenous People’s Day), Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, businesses don’t shut down for all of them. Curious.
Each of us attach a different meaning to these days. For some, these days are holy. For others, they are a vacation from the daily grind of life. Herein lies the rub with Thanksgiving and inclusivity. What meaning do our colleagues attach to the holiday? What message do we send to them by the way our company promotes and observes them?
A personal story will help me articulate this point. On January 24, 2005, my second son, Simon, died in his sleep. He was three months old. As you can imagine, our world was turned upside down. My wife did not want to celebrate Mother’s Day, and I wasn’t excited to celebrate Father Day, even though we were still parents. We avoided baby showers and hated taking our daughter to birthday parties. We skipped holidays and celebrations with extended family.
People did not criticize or label our behavior. We were given space and shown empathy. Most tempered their celebrations when we were around as a way to acknowledge our pain and loss. Knowing this meant the world.
For most of us, Thanksgiving represents a meal between Pilgrims and Native Americans, gratitude, and/or spending time with loved ones. However, for many Native Americans, it is known as the Day of Mourning. Why should one meal be so celebrated when it was followed by policies of removal, assimilation and genocide?
As business leaders who seek to create an inclusive workplace environment, what are we doing to acknowledge this experience and sentiment? When we only speak of feasts and family, what message do we send to others who have experienced trauma? Do we have a duty to show our Indigenous colleagues and fellow citizens the compassion and empathy I was extended in the days following the death of my son? What steps can we take to make this and other holidays more inclusive?