Monday, August 20, 2007

A grateful heart. It's mine, I tell you. Mine!

I'm been ruminating lately, over what kind of line there is between gratitude and selfishness, and whether it's a really thin one at that.

On the other hand, one of the things I try not to think about too much is how better this world would be if we cared more, or if we were less apathetic, or maybe even demonstrated more gratitude.

Now I'm wondering if apathy is always the correct word. Oh, I'm sure that some people are apathetic. But perhaps others are simply trying to survive? For me, there's only so much I can take of the daily atrocities before I can feel myself shutting down, and I have to push the images away if I want to be able to function -- or if I even want to eat an apple without feeling guilty. There are times when I have to read the news like a giant fictional story, so I can process it.

So that's the point in which I have to focus on myself, at the exclusion of all else. How much of that is selfishness, and how much of that is simply so I don't get buried in everything that's around me? There's doing what you can, and then there's surrendering your whole life to this sense of guilt over what I have compared to what a majority of the world lacks.

And often, I take what I have for granted. It's easy to do, as I've never been without it. Gratitude for these things almost takes an extra effort, because I have to stop and make myself think about what it would be like to not have what I do have. However, it's also not an effort, because it can be easy to be grateful even during my daily (well, rather multi-daily. I work with spreadsheets at work a lot, and need breaks) of CNN.

But -- can counting our blessings lead to an inability to let them go, and in fact make us cling to them? Can it make us so focused on what we have that what we have turns into needs, even if it's a certain house, car, clothing, job and so on? Yet at the same time, those "needs" can help me remained balanced, and not getting overwhelmed by all of the suffering in the world.

There's also the sense that I do have these things, and to not be grateful, or even demonstrate a sense of appreciation for them, is wrong. Yet I'd want to do so in a way that doesn't indulge in selfishness.

I feel like I almost have two different topics going on here. I think the connection is that more people than we think are grateful for what they have, and aren't just selfish. However, there's also a part of you that has to take it for granted, or you'll drive yourself crazy in comparing yourself to the less fortunate.

5 comments:

StaCeY said...

Hi Heather,

Interesting contemplation.

I'm thinking that "things" are not really a reliable measure, as gratitude is concerned.

While I am deeply grateful not to have to live in the bowels of dehumanizing poverty... I am even more grateful not to have been born into the high elite circles that create/run/own the slave machine(s).

In that light... the amount of "stuff" I have... really measures nothing.

Is the question here perhaps more one of appreciation than gratitude anyway?

So what is appreciation?
We can really only appreciate something to the extent that we have "resonated" personally... connected a valued meaning... with that thing. (how sweet and refreshing and life giving was the juice of that apple you were eating? That would be the measure of your "appreciation" of the apple.)

How many people go through life with whatever it is they may or may not "have"... dead to it all.
You know... just going through the motions of life... but not really EXPERIENCing any of it on a vital, dynamic level.

A deep experience of life must preceed a deep appreciation of life, which all preceeds GRATITUDE of life.

I think that appreciation is something we can simply LIVE OUT... by making the effort to experience the world in "technicolor" (so to speak)...
in each and every moment we possibly can. I think appreciation is more something we DO and live out...
than it is a "feeling ABOUT" what we may or may not have.

Except that the value of a thing is elevated within YOU... by reflecting on the fact that there are others suffering truly... in need of that thing... I see absolutely NO VALUE in "comparison- appreciation". GUILT has nothing to do with measuring appreciation... UNLESS your life ACTIONS are ACTUALLY putting/keeping others in poverty. Most of us DO NOT have that much power or influence in the world on a large scale level to come to such a conclusion. However... if we make it a point to appreciate OTHERS... the others around us... and we seek a deeper experience of them... surely our ACTIONS will express our appreciation of them... and they will FEEL VALUED ... and by simple appreciation we will enRICH a hurting world... in the ACTION of gratitude... which really is love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
thanks for making me think deeper Heather. I appreciate your questions and your thoughts... and I am grateful to know you on the blogsphere. You take me deeper into life. Stacey.

SocietyVs said...

"I think the connection is that more people than we think are grateful for what they have, and aren't just selfish." (Heather)

I agree...somewhat. I think there is general normalness in being grateful for the things you have earned (a home, a car, etc) - and these things are used often by the purchaser. But I think, as a normal mode of the West, greed is somewhat made a value. You rarely find people asking themselves - how much money would keep me content? Then using all extra money to help those less fortunate in society...it's just not the norm. Greed drives a capitalistic society - this is the way it is. It is up to society to convince us this is a 'value' worth keeping - and it's very hard to justify in the light of extreme poverty on TV. I do get what you're saying.

"there's also a part of you that has to take it for granted, or you'll drive yourself crazy in comparing yourself to the less fortunate." (Heather)

I think this is where balance has to kick in. For me the balance I strike is the idea 'what I have should not be used to oppress another or I should be willing that they have what I have'. I actually tried to start a group (in a church environment) about trying to solve needs in the neighborhoods we live in - by pooling our resources (including money) - you can guess how that went over. I just wanted to do something with the 'extra' I have - so someone else can benefit from it - the church gave me excuses like 'co-dependancy and enabling' - excuses to 'not give'. So the group failed and I figure I'll still do it - help people to achieve what they might not be able to do without a little help. I just can't justify having all the things I have and not giving them away - or helping someone when they ask...it seems a little selfish to me. But I am with you in this struggle - this is an issue we need to peruse for mental sanity.

HeIsSailing said...

SocietyVs sez:
"I actually tried to start a group (in a church environment) about trying to solve needs in the neighborhoods we live in - by pooling our resources (including money) - you can guess how that went over."

Tell me about it. I tried the same thing with my old Bible study group. Oh well.

Heather, I have nothing very profound to say like SocietyVs and Stacy, except to say that I do see some extreme poverty every time I venture into Juarez just a few miles from my house. Even after I have rejected Christianity, I still occassionally feel the need to thank *somebody* for my good fortune, my good health and my good marraige, and my other many blessings. I usually end up thanking my wife these days, whereas before I thanked God.

Does it fuel greed? Oh, I don't know for sure, but I am going to say no. After all, we may be accustomed to our many blessings, and never be grateful for any of it, yet that same greed is still going to be there. I hate to use the word greed in this case, it is more like acclimitization. You are just accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Right?

Kay said...

Thought provoking post Heather.

I am very grateful for what I have, and do not think I am selfish for having what I have or liking to have what I have.

Funny thing about me is, I don't like to have too much. Rather than feeling secure, I get anxious when I have too much stuff.

That works out well for both me and other people. ;-) When I start to feel like I have too much stuff I give some of it away (to friends or to charity).

Heather said...

Stacey,

Thank you for commenting. I'm glad you're finding a connection to my posts.

**Is the question here perhaps more one of appreciation than gratitude anyway?**

Of this, I have no doubt, simply because people aren't the same. We all express ourselves differently. But I do think, regardless of the person, gratitude is connected with an awareness of one's life, and the lives of others.

Society,

**But I think, as a normal mode of the West, greed is somewhat made a value. You rarely find people asking themselves - how much money would keep me content?**

I do agree that the Western world can promote a sense of greed, comparison, and never having enough. And I also know, based on personal experience if nothing else, that some people simply are selfish and wouldn't know gratitude if it hugged them. On my hopeful days, I like to think of those people as extreme.

But when we take the example that HIS provided -- I can see someone not doing anything, not out of selfishness, but out of being overwhelmed. We get hit with the idea that we're only one person, and can only do so much. And then where would we start? How would we decide who gets our help, as opposed to someone else? Decisions like that can be overwhelming, and sometimes it's almost easier not to act. So I wouldn't call those people greedy, I'd call them ... frozen. It's just that for every person we could help, there are 500 more that we'll never reach. So in a way, you have to shut part of yourself down and just focus on those you can reach.

HIS,

** Even after I have rejected Christianity, I still occassionally feel the need to thank *somebody* for my good fortune, my good health and my good marraige, and my other many blessings. **

I can understand this, because in situations like these, it all seems so random. What caused us to be born where we were, and have the opportunities we have, and caused another person to be born in poverty, with no chances?

Kay,

You're a step ahead of me. When I have too much stuff, I sell it on e-bay. Although I do donate clothes.

**and do not think I am selfish for having what I have or liking to have what I have.**

I don't think it's selfish, either, when in healthy moderation. After all, part of expressing gratitude is enjoying what we have, or liking it, or just using it.

I also think we can get numb to it, though, like HIS was alluding to. When you get accostmed to something, we can start taking it for granted, which can maybe look selfish?

But as long as we periodically step back and just appreciate, I think we're okay. Which you do. :)