After a day of pre-Christmas shopping this past Sunday, my wife and I returned just after 7PM to a dark (and growing colder) house. It was 17deg F outside; down to 52 inside. Our generator had already been scheduled to be repaired…the next day. Being the brave and diligent souls that we are (and confident that nothing inside the house would freeze before morning), we reported the outage to Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), grabbed our toothbrushes, and fled to the Keene Holiday Inn Express.
In a time when we seem to be hearing heightened bantering about entitlement, while many of our politicians and most of the major media parade the “duty” and “benevolence” of re-distribution, I find myself continually in awe of the attitude and commitment continually displayed by the members of our society who actually do the work- people who work hard so that they can support themselves and provide for their families.
Ryan, who showed up at noon to fix our generator, had worked beyond midnight the night before, helping our neighbors escape the dark and the cold. Likewise, my “heroes” in the PSNH bucket trucks worked throughout the night, restoring light and heat to the families in our area.
I am so grateful for the Ryans and the linemen, for the business owners, and for the workers within organizations across the land, that together make modern society work. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And since we are about to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday here in the US, it is a grand opportunity to re-visit a bit of history…
What I was taught in school about the Pilgrims was that this group of English Puritans fled religious persecution in Great Britain, sailed across the Atlantic to North America, and ended up on the shores of Massachusetts. I was also taught that, Ill-prepared to “live off the land”, it was only due to the kindness and assistance of the local inhabitants (the American Indians) that the Pilgrims survived.
Interestingly, there is a significant part of the story which most of us were never taught.
In addition to their desire for religious freedom, these Puritans were also fleeing the “totalitarian control” of the business and civil structures of the era- wealth and power in the hands of a very few, amassed upon the backs of the “indentured” many. Because of this, they originally sought to create a collective society- a “utopia” to be built upon the concepts detailed in Plato’s Republic, where everyone shares in the work…and equally in the results.
This experiment failed miserably.
As indicated in the diary of Governor William Bradford, head of the colony, the colonists did collectively clear and work the land; however, they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did they create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.
The less industrious members of the colony showed up late to their work in the fields, and didn’t necessarily do much once they got there. Knowing that they and their families would receive an equal share of whatever the group produced (irrespective of whether they worked hard or not), they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts. Those who worked hard anyway became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more slack members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.
In spite of the teachings and assistance of the Native Americans, through essential starvation and associated disease, two years of this practice left only a fraction of the original Pilgrim population alive.
To their credit, Governor Bradford and the elders recognized the failure of the collectivist approach. Rather than the prescripted, “all men shall work the fields / everyone shares in the results”, they decided to try something radically new and different- freedom and autonomy.
By parceling up the land, and allowing families the freedom and autonomy to make their own choices while directly reaping the benefits of their individual efforts, harvests multiplied. These surpluses led to a celebration come harvest time. As Governor Bradford recorded in his diary, “By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” The very First Thanksgiving.
As surpluses continued, colony members began to specialize based upon their unique abilities. One type of surplus led to trade for another. And the colony ultimately flourished.
The lesson in this for me is that allowing individuals the freedom and autonomy to make their own choices within the context of an overall mission, whether this be the mission of an organization, a family, or a community, and affording to each the consequences of those choices, grows a sense of ownership. When working with a sense of ownership, people do the right things for the right reasons because they want to. People prosper. Organizations prosper. Communities prosper.
As Bernard Baruch put it so well…
“The highest and best form of efficiency comes through the spontaneous cooperation of a free people.”
I’m taking the rest of this week off. If you are in the US, I hope you do so as well. This is a wonderful time, filled with lots of great food, and quality celebration with family and friends. For me, I will also be spending a significant portion of the next five days in introspection and overt gratitude…
Gratitude for people like you who work hard to minimize mistakes, keep people safe, and make our organizations and society work even better.
Gratitude for the Ryans and the “linemen” of the world who keep everything working.
Gratitude for the amazing members of the PPI Team.
Gratitude for health and the sense to look inward rather than outward.
Gratitude for my best friend (my amazing wife Suzette), and for the incessant inspiration offered by our children and grandchildren.
Gratitude for the many lessons that I have yet to learn.
Gratitude to be in a place and a time where the world has given so many the opportunity to so positively contribute.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Wishing you and yours a warm, thoughtful, and grateful Thanksgiving!