Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg and My Thanksgiving

Last Sunday evening in Boston, several colleagues and I took time off from our HI-USA national conference and went to a showing of “Lincoln”. The movie is a Steven Spielberg masterwork, and ended up delivering much more than idle entertainment after a 10 hour day; it provoked gratitude all around for HI-USA’s emerging “unified way” of appreciating each other and our opinions, and thinking about change as we make our own kind of history together.

Let’s start with the movie. It focuses on the successful effort to secure passage of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery. Any notion that important and virtuous decisions are necessarily backed by dignified process evaporates with the portrayal of the 1865 House of Representatives. Congress was in dark frenzy, with intrigue and squabbles defining the days leading up to the vote. Finally the 13th amendment was adopted. The Civil War ended and Lincoln was assassinated just a few months later.

Then let’s juxtapose HI-USA. Boston marked HI-USA’s first national conference of key staff and volunteers since the decision to unify the organization in 2011. The gathering was a time of clarifying our post-unification vision and cementing relationships for about 170 stakeholders from across the country. It clearly drew on the can-do spirit of the 2011 assembly of HI-USA decision makers who determined that unification into a national organization, not continued division in separate parts, was in the best interest of all. The generosity of 2011 decision still carries forward to this day.

The four-day conference was inspiring to me. Our volunteers and staff met for the common purpose of advancing the good work of HI-USA and hostelling in America. The weekend included a keynote speech by pollster John Zogby who shared insights and perspectives on the 18-30 year old age group that is a primary focus of HI-USA, a series of workshops organized around fleshing out key elements of the organization’s vision for 2020, and a forum where our Transition Board of Directors openly entertained questions and comments about unification. Change management and collaborative process were highlights of a day-and-a-half of additional staff meetings.

I admit it, drawing too-deep lessons from movie entertainment is dangerous territory. And so is seemingly comparing the situations of HI-USA and the House of Representatives back then. But that’s not the intent. It’s about the appreciation that comes from a powerful visual portrayal.

The whole experience gave me thanks for the collective goodwill, character and commitment of our many staff and volunteers, and the bright future we have together.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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