On Graciousness and Gratitude
The veneer of our cultural kindness has worn thin. In some places, it has long since worn off leaving an ugly rudeness that we all feel in our country these days. It doesn’t help that unacceptable and offensive behavior emanates from our highest offices, or that acts of great violence and injustice are reported to us each day.
Thankfully, graciousness and gratitude still flourish among people who choose to treat others with dignity and respect. It is after all that what we give to others that we will reap in turn.
It is an important choice that we must make, one that is really neglected today. Why would we choose to be small-minded and smugly miserable? Or choose to do battle, rather to find a way to peace? To choose to divide because of differences rather than celebrate our common diversity? Or to be associated with a religion that means we can’t love someone, or can’t bake a cake for someone or one in which only one gender can advance?
Whether we know it or not too many of us have traded graciousness for speed and efficiency. We have traded generosity of spirit for more cell phone time and less family time and we have traded personal connections for digital ones. We accept religious affiliation at the exclusion of others.
In the process, we have also turned away from the needy of our society compounding global misery. We have watched in horror how each such neglected person becomes a time bomb who takes others with them in a final, agonizing and grand-standing death rage. We have simply stopped hearing their cries for help—locally, out on our borders and internationally. These souls have been backed into very dangerous corners.
Instead of looking out for everyone, especially the least among us or the most different among us, we have long since looked out for ourselves. This has left too many trapped and failing within our system, or even too many trapped and desperate fighting to get in.
If we were to measure the cost of what we have gained it would in no way compare with what has been lost. Most Americans will recognize “this isn’t us anymore,” knowing full well that we have fallen behind in kindness and courteousness as though offering the simple joy and kind words to another no longer matters.
My wife and I would take a private poll when walking down the beach near our home. We would purposely offer a warm hello to each person that walked by us, and then privately tally the results. There was never a night when everyone said hello in return, and there were plenty of times when our simple greeting was ignored, or we were simply stared at in surprise. A very few inspired souls would actually say hello in return, or in a more rare case someone might add, “have a wonderful evening.”
And yet, I know there is still graciousness in the hearts of many Americans, and some gratitude for this great country of wealth and the age we live in.
It takes so very little to make sure someone is heard, to add enthusiasm or kindness to your voice or to simply say hello. To always remember that someone is doing the best they can do just to be here, is the very lowest measure of empathy.
Just as it takes no additional effort in a fancy hotel to provide a guest with top service compared with a mediocre effort, life doesn’t require much of us except a little compassion, being generous and demonstrating gratitude to others.
This is after all, is all a miracle: that at this place and time, we exist at all–to ponder beauty, nature and goodness while looking out from the lonely universe we inhabit. There are challenges to be sure, but isn’t it an easy choice? Rather like when you get up in the morning and choose to live your life, or you choose to die.
I attended a recent meeting in my community and during a period of public comment, a resident got up and actually said, “We don’t want any more of your kind here,” referring to the county’s largest employer and its staff. It was quite a shock to think that anyone would say such a thing! How then are we to deal with the differences among people?
Goodness always seems to spiral upwards, and I therefore recommend we begin to choose graciousness and gratitude in our interactions with others, even those different from us. It is a subtle and powerful change, and without it, well, we are already beginning to see the results.
Since my first visit to Findhorn, a simple yet dynamic ecovillage in the north of Scotland, I have kept with me the strength of spirit and the resolute power of intentioned kindness that I found there in that rare place.
I believe it is such feelings that inform graciousness in my life and the generous way we interact with others. What gratitude I feel in being able to write this to you!