In Gratitude

Apparently one of the most profound and base needs of a human being is to be appreciated. Express appreciation, meaningful appreciation for what someone does, and there’s almost no limit to what they’ll be willing to do for you. Take people for granted, and you end up with the world we live in.

It seems we continue to incline towards the fulfilment of our rights before we consider what we need to contribute instead. It’s a contaminated space that is hard to escape. At some point someone started a trend that suggested that if we don’t take care of ourselves, then no one will take care of us. We have a beautiful tradition that says, “If we don’t take care of our neighbours, then who will take care of us?” I’m not sure of the source, but the wisdom it holds is far reaching.

It’s a particularly vicious cycle because when we wait to be taken care of before we are willing to contribute, we assume that those who deserve to be taken care of by us do not have a similar yearning. That is, to be taken care of first before they feel inclined to take care of others. So we inadvertently become a key part of the very same cycle that distresses us.

This begs the question about what gratitude really means. Is gratitude our expression of appreciation to others for what we received from them, or is true gratitude our exercise of the capabilities we have at our disposal for the benefit of others, regardless of their appreciation for what we do? Maybe it’s not a choice between either, but rather a combination of the two. Given the binary world we live in these days with everything either broken or fixed, and nothing is repairable because everything is replaceable, it’s easy to see why most behave as if it can only be one or the other.

I think it starts with how we appreciate what we have. No. It can’t be that simple because that implies that we view what we have through our own eyes and not through the actions of others. We don’t. We look at what we have, then look at who admires what we have, and if that admiration comes from a source that we admire, then we appreciate what we have. If it doesn’t, we consider ourselves to be pathetic or despicable or unworthy because what we have is so lacking compared to what everyone else has. That seems about right, doesn’t it?

We all want to be unique, just like everyone else. I think the world is lacking in conviction. Everyone knows what everyone else likes, what’s trending, and how to get on the trend-wagon, but only a handful knows why. It’s gotten so bad that even those setting the trends do so because of the attention it will receive and not because they have a conviction in the value that the trend may offer. Acceptance has been confused with appreciation, and so the moment we’re part of the trending crowd, we assume that what we have or what we offer to that crowd is appreciated by that crowd. It’s not. It’s a convenient collection of empty souls that look for meaning in others because they’re too afraid to find meaning within themselves.

Yes, that’s a horrible generalisation, but generalisations seem to be in vogue. We taint an entire group for the actions of a few outliers, and then insist that it’s the group’s responsibility to deal with them before we absolve the group of culpability. Let’s think about that for a second. We accuse others of guilt because of their association with a rogue entity, and instead of recognising the rogue-ness of that entity and restraining ourselves from judging unfairly, we abdicate responsibility of such bigoted views and then blame our victims for not doing enough to avoid being judged by us. Did I get that right?

So back to gratitude. If we don’t take accountability for how we see the world, we won’t feel accountable for how we treat others, and in turn, will not see any reason to treat anyone else better until they do right by us first. That means that everything that we’ve been blessed with, be it our health, wealth, resources, opportunities and more, is irrelevant the moment we feel unappreciated. And if anyone wants to judge us for it, they must first appreciate us or else their judgement will amount to naught. Sounds like quite a mess.

Gratitude for me has always been my ability to improve the state or condition of anyone or anything that I come into contact with. If it is not in a better condition than it was before I touched it, then at the least, it must not be in a worse state either. Anything less would mean that I take for granted what I have. While too many focus on the religious ramifications of such an attitude, I think there is a greater practical impact that we need to consider first.

When I take something for granted, like my car perhaps, I don’t give it due attention, maintenance, or proper handling. This results in it degrading at a rate faster than it needs to, which in turn means I would have to repair (oh, wait, we don’t do that any more) or replace it sooner than anticipated, which means the strain on my resources is greater, resulting in other areas of my life being impacted, which in turn increases the burden of life that I experience, resulting in me feeling burdened because of external influences, when in fact my burden is entirely self-imposed.

If we live with gratitude, we’ll appreciate every crumb left on our plate. We won’t horde things waiting for better days, but instead we’ll recognise that someone else has a dire need for what we think will look cool on us when the fashion trend returns, assuming we’ll still fit in it. Gratitude means that if I have the ability to contribute positively towards someone else’s challenge, I will. Not because I know them, or because they will pay me, but because I can. And because I can, I am morally obliged to bring that ability to bear on the betterment of the world I live in, because it is that same world that makes me feel blessed or cursed, depending on how I experience it, and through whom.

To realise the value of what I have to offer, I must first stop seeing myself through the eyes of others. If I discount my blessings because of my fixation on the blessings of others, I lose the right to receive from others before I contribute towards them first. How empty an existence must that be?

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