04 March 2014

thoughts on gratitude

          Gratitude. Originally my resolution for this year was to consider the power of gratitude and to harness it in my own life: a simple-enough goal, and a positive one. The benefits of counting your blessings have been philosophized, scientifically proven, and recorded in movies, books, songs and poems. Yet, even as I improve in gratitude, I find myself falling back on a self-centered perception of those around me.

It is so easy to convince myself that I am better than the person in front of me. Actually, it hardly takes any convincing; we are egocentric creatures, after all. My world revolves around me. Your world revolves around you. With a little practice we can withhold reacting nastily to someone by reminding ourselves of our greatness: "Oh I can be nice to this person to her face because when it comes down to it, I know she is wrong and I am right". I am grateful for this situation because I am right. I am grateful because I am smarter, wiser, more loving, more cultured, more experienced, more open-minded, more empathetic than the person in front of me. But this isn't really encapsulating the meaning of gratitude, is it? Are we grateful for this person, or merely finding pleasure in a situation where we can give ourselves another pat on the back?

What happens if I fight against this egotistical outlook that surfaces when confronted with someone frustrating, and stop to consider the person from outside myself? It takes more time to be self-aware. It is a process. It isn't easy.

"I just heard that guy make such an ignorant comment about people using welfare. What a lot of hatred for those worse off than him. How closed-minded he is. Good thing I am here to teach him a lesson."

Instead, of jumping to conclusions about the guy in front of me, maybe I can discipline myself to look at the situation differently. Maybe this guy has had an experience that shaped this statement. Maybe he had a terrible morning, he just got off the phone with his alcoholic brother who abuses the welfare system and refuses to seek help. Maybe this guy has such an overwhelming love for his brother but he can't seem to reconcile it with his hatred for his brother's self-destructive actions. Maybe his unwarranted ridicule actually comes from a place of pain and heartache.

This is only a very mere possibility of course, but there are so many possibilities. Endless possibilities. So why do I so quickly jump to a possibility that leaves no room for mutual growth, no room for a connection? When I say something nasty, I know the reason behind it. So I may beat myself up about it, and then forgive myself for a bad reaction. When someone else says something nasty (especially someone who has yet to benefit me), I either assume I know the reason behind it, or even worse, assume there is no reason. I assume I know them better than they know themselves, and oh, what a terrible trap that is to fall into. We can lecture the world or we can step back and realize that every person we meet has lived a life we will never live, experienced a situation we can never experience.

We can break people down and for a moment seem more powerful, but in the end, perhaps we have crushed the only people who can break down the deluded bits inside ourselves. Every other person knows something we do not. For this, let's be grateful.

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