Monday, December 30, 2013

On Gratitude

You see it a lot, the phrase 'an attitude of gratitude'.  Over November, many people I know were doing 'thirty days of gratitude' across various social media platforms, taking some time each day to offer a general acknowledgment of something or someone for whom they felt thankful.

Here lately, I've also seen a lot of people wrapping up the end of the year with "I'm so glad for all I have!" posts, talking about wonderful communities and wonderful friends and the support they receive every day.  They gush, in glowing terms, how lucky they are to have made such wonderful friends.

I think I'd like to ask them a couple questions.

You've acknowledged your general gratitude for the things and people in your life, but have you specifically thanked and acknowledged the people who have helped you?  How often do you sit down, and instead of throwing a general thanks 'out there', seek out some person who's done something to support or empower or protect you, so that you can say "I see what you did, and I honor what you did, and I could not have achieved what I have if you had not?"

That's the thing, you see.  In the US, we glorify the culture of the 'self-made man'.  And in the culture of the self-made man, there is no room for specific gratitude, because it suggests that another person's work and love had some impact on who you are, that you are not wholly self-made.  So long as you keep your thankfulness general, you don't have to admit that there was some part of that self-making that you simply did not and probably could not accomplish on your own.

It's OK to thank God (or the gods) if you're a 'self-made person' because you can subscribe to prosperity doctrine or the law of attraction, that says that if you have the right faith, belief, or mindset, that's all that's needed for divine or universal blessings to be given to you (see also magical thinking).  You can couch your acknowledgment of what you've been given with vague gratitude so that the credit still really rests with you, for 'keeping positive' or 'being a good person'.  It's karma, you see, that your previous good deeds have put a down payment on the world rewarding you with help when you need it.  If this friend hadn't chosen to help  you, someone would have, because you deserved it.

Same thing with being grateful for your community.  Sometimes people say "I'm grateful that I have such good friends," and I hear "Congratulations to me for choosing friends who will help and support me regardless of whether I have helped and supported them!"  Keeping gratitude general still lets you, on some level, claim credit for foresight or good judgment in ensuring that community would be a resource to you.  (it is fine to be grateful that you have good friends, as long as you understand that you should probably also occasionally acknowledge why, precisely, they ARE such good friends)

When it comes to specifically looking at your life, and recognising that an individual made a deliberate choice he or she was not obligated to make, to benefit and support you, that can be very daunting for some.  To admit to real and specific gratitude to another person's free choices is to swallow your pride and acknowledge that your identity as 'self-made' is a convenient fiction.

None of us is self-made.  We must all own our decisions, and we are all in control of how we will respond to what happens to us, but we all owe gratitude to someone, somewhere.  Maybe it's as small as 'stopped to help me change a tire on the way to a job interview' or 'stayed on chat with me all night when I was stressed about my sick cat' but it's there.

So I challenge you, when you practice your attitude of gratitude, to examine your life, and pinpoint those choices that others have made for you, out of no obligation other than love, empathy, or compassion.  Then seek out those people (if you can find them) and personally thank them, not 'for all you did' but for 'that moment in time'.

Thank you for reading my blog, by the way.  Every time I see clicks or comments, it inspires me to keep writing.

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