Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Thankfulness Thing

(News-Herald, November 25) It is ironic that Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, because we Americans do gratitude so very poorly.
We love the idea of being self-made, self-sufficient, self-supporting, even though there isn’t one American in a billion who actually is any of those things. But we get our big steely squint and grunt on and declare, hands clenched before us, “I’ve made this life for myself with these two hands.” We have trouble setting aside pride long enough to pick up gratitude.
When looking for ingrates, people of faith will note non-believers who fail to honor the Deity which gave life and breath to all that we experience, and they have a point. It’s an easy step for people to slip from believing in no God to believing in themselves as the micro-God of their own mini-universe.
But people of faith can also fail gratitude school. Since a Pharisee first said, “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like other men,” religious folks have fallen prey to the prayer, “Thank you, God, for giving me what I so richly deserve.”
“I thank You that I am so awesome,” does not qualify as gratefulness.
So it’s not faith (or lack thereof) that gets in our way when it comes to gratitude. The road black is our tendency to believe that our successes and failure prove something fundamental about who we are. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we want to believe that bad things happen to stinky people while the Good are justly rewarded. Even when we see living proof that life doesn’t always work that way, we see it as a violation of natural law, not evidence that our ideas about natural law are incorrect.
If something good happened to us, we reason that it must have happened because we deserve it. We look at our good fortune and think, “I must be awesome!”
But it’s not as if life is a random roll of the dice. Good choices tend to lead to better results than bad choices. Sitting on the porch and waiting for your ship to come in doesn’t work for much of anyone. Work hard, be smart, choose wisely, pay attention, keep trying, and maintain good character—these are all likely to be the part of any success story.
So if you’ve done all these things, if you’ve done most things right to bring you to that good place that you are today, what should you be thankful for? If you are a do-it-yourself success story, where should you direct your gratitude today?
The people who raised you: No three-year-old is a self-made man, and there’s no grown human who doesn’t have a personal three year old tucked inside. The folks who raised you, even if they did a lousy job, shaped you. Be grateful that they helped equip you for success.
Timing: So many choices only look smart after the fact, because they are only smart at that moment, and you can’t know if the time is right unless you take the jump. Some folks got rich buying and selling houses; some are going broke. No doubt someone with a natural aptitude for computer math was born in ancient Egypt. Fat lot of good it did him. Be grateful that you came along at the right time.
Lack of consequences: Nobody is perfect; everybody makes bad choices. Sometimes a bad choice ends the story, but sometimes the piper never shows up to demand his payment. Think of your bad choice and be grateful it didn’t derail your life.
Health: There are plenty of diseases that do not care whether you’ve chosen wisely or not. Be grateful no such disease ever chose you.
Other humans: Walt Disney had a vision and drive, but he ran out of money every other month. Had other people not backed him financially, he would have been a glorious short-lived failure. Had his wife and brother not backed him personally, he would have flamed out before he was thirty. There are people in your life you have helped carry you over one pit or another. Be grateful they were there to stand by you.
It’s good to be grateful. It reminds us not to get snotty and full of ourselves, reminds us to treat others well, and reminds us of the debt we owe the world around us. Enjoy your day, remember you’re fortunate to have it, and be grateful.

1 comment:

Danny said...

What's da matter wit you anyway? You some kinda "it takes a village" guy?

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