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Celebrate the Basics


Stephen Heck


The bitter frosts with the sleet and rain hath destroyed the green in every field.  Geoffrey Chaucer - 14th century CE


Throughout the early history of Western European culture, the last two months of the year were viewed as a time of contrasts.  Fall was ending and winter began on December 21 with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Most years would find both peasants and nobility gathered around their respective fires through the �bitter frosts�, celebrating the bounty of the autumnal harvest and the prosperity of the kingdom.  Yet there was always a dark undercurrent of thought wondering whether the next year would be as fruitful.  Ecstatic celebration meeting sober reflection in the context of the reliable cadence of the seasons was a constant to every person living in these distant times. 

Early Europeans viewed the Winter Solstice as a representation of the eternal struggle between the forces of Light and Dark.  This day was the point at which the Sun, or the Light, �conquered� the Dark and from thereon the days would slowly grow longer in anticipation of another spring planting season.  The Romans celebrated this time with the festival of Saturnalia, which was named after the ancient Roman god of the harvest, Saturn.  Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17 through December 24, and was a time of feasting, gift giving, and reflection.  One of the more interesting customs took place in the homes of upper class Roman households, where on December 24, the master of the house personally served the main meal of the day to all of the household servants.  In many cases, as an additional act of humility, the master would wash the feet of each of his servants.  One of the servants would also act as �Master� for the day. 

During the Middle Ages in Europe, Saturnalia had evolved into the Feast of Fools and featured similar activities, including the reversal of roles.  Selected peasants would play the roles of certain members of the clergy for the day with the full support of the church.  Unfortunately over the years, the celebrations became so riotous that they were finally banned by the church.  Nevertheless, the common thread than ran throughout all of these celebrations was humility.  An appreciation for humbleness, modesty, and sacrifice by all members of society was the expectation, albeit not always achieved.

As 2010 draws to a close, these quaint celebrations may seem bizarre and remote, yet they emphasize certain human qualities that all too often get lost in the commercial holiday frenzy of the modern era (what will future civilizations think of our Black Friday sales stampedes?).  During this particular time of year, all of us should spend some time practicing, both in our personal and work lives, considering that other person�s point of view; respecting all of the variety in the human condition; and giving something of yourself to others, whether time or money. Once you�ve spent some time practicing these new behaviors, you might then start generalizing such behavior to the rest of the year.   Don�t let the �sleet and rain� outside of your dwelling become the state of your humanity. 


I have three precious things which hold fast and prize.  The first is gentleness. The second is frugality.  The third is humility which keeps me from putting myself before others.  Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader.  -   Lao Tzu � circa 600 BCE


Stephen J. Heck is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute.  Steve has extensive experience leading complex, multi-faceted initiatives impacting growth, operating efficiency, and overall financial performance of businesses across diverse sectors including public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Career achievements include reengineering under-performing business operations, managing Information Technology enterprise system integration and facilitating global business expansion and growth. He has held senior positions with such organizations as WiMAX Forum; Humboldt State University, California; and Metro Regional Government, Portland, Oregon. Steve gained a B.A. from Portland State University; a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington and a Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University, Oregon. He is a member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE Member, Society on Social Implications of Technology. Since 1996 Steve has been an evaluator with the Prior Learning  Assessment  Program at Marylhurst University in Oregon, and from 1984 to 2000 Steve was  Adjunct Professor in Public Administration at the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University in Oregon.

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