In October 1863, in the midst of a tragic and prolonged civil war engulfing all of the regions of the United States of America, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving. The year, he wrote, “…has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. In the midst of a civil war, of unequaled magnitude and severity, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of war…”
The President implored the “interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. “ He ordered the nation to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise…”
And so for the American nation, a day of pause, and giving thanks for all of the blessings we enjoy (and often take for granted) was created, and persists as an important “custom and tradition” in the words of an editor who wrote to Mr. Lincoln to urge him to create a “day of national thanksgiving.”
The words in President Lincoln’s proclamation strike a familiar chord today for many of us. There is civil strife in many parts of the world, and wars of “great severity” being waged, with disastrous results for combatants and affected civilians. There is “dis-harmony” in politics and in the popular culture, and a seeming inability in many spheres of the American society to “get along.”
The President noted among the nation’s blessings 152 years ago was that “…the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as iron and coal as of the previous metals, have yielded even more abundantly…” Things changed dramatically in the years since the mid-1800s.
We are not a continental union of unlimited resources, and with ten times the population of that era, with vast industrial capacity and infrastructure that would astound the citizen of 1860, we must carefully protect and husband our resources, such as water, soil, air, minerals, fuel sources, lakes, rivers…and more.
In 2015, we can be thankful for the continuing freedoms and abundance of the American nation. We are also thankful for the vision and foresight of those who advance greater responsibility, accountability and sustainability in the business and investment communities. The quest for greater collective and individual responsibility is very encouraging.
Huge business enterprises in numerous sectors are seeking to “do well and also do good,” as are investors providing the capital for these enterprises. The world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, has embraced “impact investing,” in recognition that philanthropy, while helping humanity make great advances, has it limits, and that harnessing the power of the business community can make important differences in “outcomes” that benefit the greater society.
Individuals are making a difference. As our colleague Steve Viederman often observes, where you stand often depends on where you sit (meaning, your position as a company). The Millennial Generation “stands” for greater responsibility toward society in the private, public and social sectors, and by their ideals and actions are moving the organizations “where they sit” toward greater responsibility and sustainability. That’s important to keep in mind as these young men and women move up the ladder in their organizations and assume the power of the purse, board room and executive suite.
And while we have disagreements in our American society over things like climate change, we can be thankful that in large measure we can give thanks that for most of us, “…peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed…”
From all of us at Governance & Accountability Institute to all of you, our colleagues, friends, and clients…here’s to a Blessed Thanksgiving Day for you and your loved ones.
The Team at G&A Institute