How we say ‘thanks’

Though I’m not plugged in to popular culture, I do try to catch the Oscars.  Like the Superbowl and the Olympics, it is a chance for the whole world to tune in and dream of a simpler world full of villains, heroes and movie stars.  The Oscars on Sunday night felt appropriately subdued, reminiscent of old-world Hollywood – complete with Hugh Jackman’s impressive retinue of song-and-dance numbers.

They tried something new this year.  In the major categories, Oscar winners from years past come on stage together to announce the 2008 nominees.  (Tony award winning actor Sarah Jones tweeted (@jonesarah) during the show “A bit disoriented by the multi-presenter format, it’s kind of like the ghosts of oscars past. Can’t decide whether I like.”)

I felt the same way at first, until the Best Actress award.  The five previous winners came on stage, a group of powerhouses:  Sophia Lauren, Halle Berry, Shirley MacLaine, Marion Cotillard, and Nicole Kidman.

The defining moment was when Shirley MacLaine spoke with genuine warmth and respect to Anne Hathaway, praising not only Hathaway’s work this past year in Rachael Getting Married but reflecting that she’ll be a star for years to come.  Hathaway was visibly moved, with tears welling up in her eyes.

Lately I’ve been involved in the selection process for a few sought-after positions – not quite Oscar-like in their desirability, but hundreds of applicants for a handful of spots (most recently the Acumen Fund Fellows Program).  What strikes me is that we (all, collectively) may be reasonably good at whittling down an applicant pool to, say, the top 10%, but when you only have spots for the “top” 1% or so, there’s no fair, totally objective answer to “who is best?”

Which is why I liked what they did at the Oscars this year.  There was real, honest thanks and acknowledgment offered to the nominees, and I suspect that Anne Hathaway’s night was a lot different than it would have been with a different format — one of film’s all-time greats sung her praises, to her and to the world.

Too often in life, the winners (who get the award, the job, the acceptance letter) win and the almost-winners get polite declines.  Can’t we do better?  Can’t we find ways to acknowledge and honor all the people who were really great and who put themselves out there…and can we go a step further to create communities that allow these outstanding people to connect with and support one another?

Giving thanks is a dying art.  In a world with more communication than ever, we have dwindling amounts of personal connection.  People are thirsty for genuine interaction that starts with candor, respect, and honest words of thanks.

How can we best begin?

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