Conversations That Matter: Thanksgiving Message

This was originally published for my 2004 Thanksgiving Message.

Let me share a thanksgiving story with you. Last week I visited the Leadership Class of Woodinville High School. My son Edan participates in the class and his teacher, Mr. Vixie, invited me to conduct a self-leadership workshop with this group of young leaders.
Ecology is always important, so I came early to arrange the chairs in a circle and make the classroom as conducive as possible to our meeting. They walked in one after the other and soon we were ready to begin. “I am not here to teach you, I came here to have a conversation with you,” I began as I addressed these 30 bright young men and women.
“When I was in my senior year, 28 years ago (1976), I felt vibrantly alive. Looking around then I felt scared because of what I saw in the adults around me. I did not want to end up like them. It seemed as if something in them got shut down or dimmed. I felt like that because the really important stuff was not talked about. The big questions, about meaning and inner struggles and transitions of life, were not discussed.
“‘But they must have all felt the same when they were 17 and 18,’ I thought, ‘It means they forgot.’ So I made a vow to myself to not forget and to remember to remember. And because I remember I am here today to invite you into a conversation that matters.” Now I knew that I got their attention, because they were looking at me with big eyes and with suspended quietness.
I was holding a sycamore stick in my hand and I said: “This stick has magic power. When you hold this stick, imagine it can give you the power to change one thing in this world. Take a few moments to think what would you choose if you had the power of this stick and could change one thing in this world?”
For a few moments they quietly wrote their answers. For the next two hours the stick had moved from one hand to another. Each young person said, “I have the power of the stick and the one thing I would change in this world is….” They spoke of their visions, concerns and dreams, and I inquired deeper: “What do you mean when you say that? Why is this change important for you? What do you think will have to change first in order to allow the change you want?” And so on. We all listened intently. As we did, I understood that we were fulfilling a request expressed by a young man named Dalton.
Let me explain. Earlier that year a few of my son’s friends came for a visit. We were sitting in a circle in the living room. A similar question had been posed: “If you could change one thing in this world, what would that be?” When Dalton spoke, he said: “The one thing I would change in our world is that I would make there to be a better understanding between the generations. I would make real conversations that matter, when we really listen to each other.”
“It is such a waste,” he said. “My grandfather must have had so much experience and understanding about life and relationships and about what is important, and my parents, too, but we have never talked about it. I want to know from them more about how they really think and what they really feel, but we don’t have such conversations. Mostly we talk about what I should or shouldn’t do.”
His voice was breaking a bit and his candid courage stirred something in the room. He then added, “It doesn’t make sense. Every generation starts almost from the same point. Yes, technology is different. But in the really important things, like relationships, love, living and other important questions of life, experience is not transferred. We don’t seem to learn and every generation seems to repeat the same mistakes.”
We all knew something very real just happened because the atmosphere was tender and electrifying. It was clear Dalton was expressing a bigger cry. His request for change could not be answered or pacified on the spot. It was a message to take home and to reflect on. He was asking us to imagine with him how different our world could be when we start to have conversations that matter with each other; when we have conversations that matter with our children and grandchildren.
Dalton helped me to remember my own vow to never forget. If Dalton’s message touches you as it touched me, you might have an opportunity during this Thanksgiving holiday to have a conversation that matters with someone. That someone may be your son or daughter or someone else. What Dalton was saying is that your experience – what you have learned in your life – is important and meaningful. His message was that when the moment is right, you have an obligation to share what you have learned through your journey, so your precious experience is not wasted, and we can all be a bit better by learning from you, from each other.
I have discovered that when I listen carefully and intently to another person I learn so much. And then, after I have listened intently and purposefully, I often find in the other person a true interest to listen and hear from me. Dalton’s message was that one of the most special ways we can give thanks is by listening to each other and by appreciating and sharing with others what we learned. Through learning and appreciating we offer thanks together to all that supports and nourishes us.
I wish you a special and replenishing holiday.

© Aviv Shahar

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