Start with Thanks

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving season in the United States, I thought I’d repeat this post about gratitude from October 2019. It discusses the importance of being thankful and remembering those who have helped us along the way.

“Call me Ishmael.”

This may surprise some people but those aren’t the first words to Moby Dick. If you were to find a copy of the book, you’d see written on the first pages the following “Thank you:”

“In Token Of My Admiration for his Genius,
This Book is Inscribed To

I share this because I’ve been doing some introspection and reflection over the last few days. Since this blog is where I usually turn to work through my thoughts, I’m here again. Thinking and writing. And starting with Melville’s less-than-famous “Thank you!”

Let me take a step back. All of this introspection comes from a huge misstep I made recently. Last week, I helped lead a presentation on educator ethics for about a hundred students. Since the presentation involved students from various programs across campus, a group of faculty came together weeks earlier to plan the whole event. We wanted to use video cases to drive the presentation so our group reviewed a bunch of different examples to situate the overall discussion in authentic, thought-provoking situations. It was truly a collaborative planning venture and the presentation was well received by students.

With all of the collaboration and positive response, you may be wondering “Where’s the misstep?” On the evening of the presentation, my co-presenter and I just jumped right in. Sure, we took a few minutes to introduce ourselves. But, we didn’t acknowledge the important contributions from the other faculty who had played a critical role in getting the whole event off the ground. To add further insult to this whole affair, our collaborators’ names weren’t included on any of the slides either. It’s like my co-presenter and I had rendered our collaborators absolutely invisible.

After the event, I realized my mistake, but by then, it was too late. Sure, I can send out an email thanking the collaborators or send “Thank You” notes. But when I had the opportunity to thank them publicly, I didn’t. When I had the chance to practice gratitude, I forgot. So, instead of saying “thank you,” I went around apologizing for the oversight.

But my misstep isn’t entirely the point of this post. Buried within this mea culpa is a larger plea, one that can help us create a more collaborative and supportive environment.

Start with thanks.

“Start with thanks” means we recognize the collaboration and the collegial support at the onset of any venture. “Start with thanks” means we acknowledge those who have helped us along the way. It means we make the invisible more visible.

Reflecting on this some more, I thought back to a podcast I heard a few months ago. David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride, appeared on the NPR show On Point to discuss the “science of gratitude.” In the episode, DeSteno discussed the importance of saying “Thank You.”

In the short-term, you can kind of be selfish and be a bit of a jerk and you can profit. But over time, people are going to realize that you’re not a good partner to work with, you’re not someone they want to have around. And what beautiful evolutionary models have shown is that over time, people who show gratitude, who cooperate, who are trustworthy, who are generous have the best outcomes. Feeling this emotion helps ensure that we do the right thing.

Just like Herman Melville took a page from his epic tome to thank Nathaniel Hawthorne, we need to do the same with our colleagues and coworkers. But the results will have greater magnitude than just words on a page.  When we start with thanks, we can ensure that our colleagues and their work are more visible.

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