As I See It: The Other “Tude”
November 27, 2006 Victor Rozek
It’s a wonder that the Thanksgiving holiday even exists. Consider that during their first years on the continent, the Pilgrims dug seven times as many graves as they built huts, yet still found reason to set aside a day of gratitude. Perched on the edge of an alien and seemingly hostile continent, knowing hunger, fear, and disease, they nonetheless saw value in expressing thanks. It was an extraordinary affirmation that deep within every manure pile lies a pony; or perhaps (from the natives’ point of view) that no pile is so high that it cannot get higher.
I, on the other hand, have had a deliriously fortunate life. The only graves I’ve dug were for my pets; I’ve never really been hungry, just ready for a meal, and my hut is 1,800 square feet of insulated comfort. Yet expressing gratitude has so often been an afterthought. It is usually the response to some kindness, or gift, or event. Yet when gratitude is limited to cause and effect, it is really little more than common courtesy. It was during my second helping of turkey that I pondered: what if gratitude was actually the cause, not the effect?
I wondered how my perspective would change if I not only expressed gratitude, but lived it. What would it be like to move through the day in a state of appreciation? It was certainly not a new idea, just one that newly occurred to me. Throughout the ages, philosophers and spiritual teachers have celebrated gratitude. All of the world’s major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, prize it. Yet in a society where manufactured lack is the basis of commerce, gratitude is not a saleable concept. “You have enough,” makes a poor marketing slogan. Perhaps that’s why the day after giving thanks for all our abundance, we rush off to the malls for the biggest, most frenetic shopping day of the year. More stuff to fill the void.
It’s as if we were a nation of children who want, rather than adults who have.
Before giving my digestive system a rest for the night, I determined to do an experiment. For one day I would endeavor to live in gratitude; to notice the abundance, not curse the lack; to celebrate what is, not yearn for what might be; to bow in deep appreciation to the enough that is already here.
The first thing I saw when I awoke the following day were the trees outside my window. Huge firs and the occasional cedar that dwarf the house and somehow escaped the multiple rotations of logging that scar the hills surrounding our valley. They shade us from the unrelenting summer sun, dance to the autumn winds, and bend with stately elegance under the winter snow. And that morning I remembered to pause and enjoy the fact that they had not been replaced by concrete.
Next to me, my wife stirred, truly my better half; a woman who has stayed with me these many years in spite of the fact that I am surely not her better half, and for that I was grateful. I looked at her in repose, still traveling the mysterious landscape of sleep, and realized how precious each second is because a full measure of time is not guaranteed to any of us.
In the bathroom, light ignited the room at the flick of a switch, and hot water flowed at the turn of the faucet; both recent miracles in the creative evolution of humankind. No one really knows what electricity is, but its wild, unruly power has been domesticated and it runs the world. The appliances and gadgets I take for granted, the heaters in the wall, the music system and the DVD player, the computer I work on, all useless until they come to life when touched by electricity. I stood in the shower, savoring the blessing of hot water on a cold day, grateful that visionary minds found ways to provide me with heat and light through little wires hidden in my walls.
Downstairs, another miracle, coffee. Grown, packaged, and transported by people I’ll never meet, that first sip as satisfying as any culinary pleasure on earth. And there was food in the kitchen, which I didn’t have to grow or hunt, yet most days I scarcely noticed it. But today I stopped and looked, marveled at the variety and felt grateful that this day I would not know hunger.
I looked out my front windows, and a flock of wild turkeys had gathered under the bird feeders to peck up what the birds and squirrels thoughtfully discard. They come through the property once each day on their way to and from some secret destination. They frequently peer in the window, bobbing their wrinkled heads, as if looking for a playmate. Today they find one. A young deer emerges from beneath the trees and, with the curiosity of the recently born, approaches the flock to investigate. Several of the hens strut toward it, clucking their annoyance. Suddenly, the deer bounds straight up about five feet, and the turkeys take off with the deer in pursuit. They are surprisingly fast runners and sometimes, when not accosted by deer, they roost in our trees and leave behind beautiful feathers.
I sat at my computer, grateful that I can make a living with a keyboard instead of a shovel. Grateful that better minds than my own invented miraculous machines that provide employment for millions and contribute to the well being of billions more; amazed that they composed dozens of languages that turn silicon into an extension of our imagination and will.
I was grateful that I worked for a man of intellect as well as integrity. I was grateful for his flexibility and unwavering support when readers object to a perspective that stretches beyond their own. What greater gift than to do what you love and be compensated for it. And I was immensely grateful for the kind feedback of readers.
Though few companies make conscious use of it, in the workplace, gratitude is the antidote to turnover. Appreciation forms a stronger bond between employer and employee than compensation. In an era when the bonds of trust between management and employee have been strained; when management treats employees as if they were a necessary evil, and employees see their management as uncaring and voracious; in an era where honor is not taught in the business curriculum, Seneca’s words ring true: “Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”
Gratitude inspires loyalty and heroic effort. It is the opposite of entitlement whether practiced by management in the form of greed, or by employees through a lack of effort. I recalled how burdensome it felt going to a job to which I felt entitled, and how energizing it feels to work at a job for which I am grateful.
Gratitude draws its power from the fact that it drives out the many manifestations of fear. I discovered that I simply could not simultaneously live in a state of gratitude and a state of fear. The things I usually worried about, vanished. I was awash in abundance. It was as if I could celebrate and rest at the same time.
During my experiment, I came to realize how much I would yearn for the things I already have if I lost them, and how little I appreciate them now. Living in gratitude was soothing; like inhaling profound acceptance and exhaling deep satisfaction. It was not a pair of rose-colored glasses, but rather a pair of clean lenses through which I could see things as they really were. It could, with practice, become the cause of my happiness, not the result of it.
It’s regrettable that in the popular culture ‘tude’ signifies an excessive swagger fueled by arrogance, bluster, and defiance. The other tude may not be as hip, but it is empowering rather than assaultive, and more enduring than empires.
I think I’ll try it again tomorrow.
Cicero thought gratitude was not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. I believe it is the second most powerful (and underutilized) force on the planet. The most powerful, I believe, is forgiveness. And to those of you who may take issue with an article on gratitude appearing in this venue, know that I will be practicing forgiveness as well.