We say thank you almost as much as we say hello. It’s common courtesy, acknowledging the value of a comment, a gesture, a favor, and of the worth of those around us. It binds us to our fellow humans, even if we do it somewhat mechanically.
In recent years I’ve been thinking about a deeper level of gratitude. David Brooks highlighted this for me in a column he wrote several years ago called “The Credit Illusion.” When we are in our twenties we are very impressed with our own talents and accomplishments. But by the time we are in our fifties, certainly by seventy, we recognize how much our life owes its shape to others.
Yes, I succeeded in college but I could only go because my parents valued it, could afford it, and sent me. And that was possible only because in the last two hundred years their parents or great grandparents journeyed from Western and Eastern Europe to a country where college was possible for and valued by people like them. They avoided two major wars that ravaged their populations and came to a country that was expanding economically.
My parents provided a stable home. They provided the foundations of my faith. Yes, I took advantage of the opportunities presented to me—educationally, economically, relationally. But I didn’t create the opportunities. Others made them possible. And I have been moved to give thanks for them and their parents more and to congratulate myself less.
Practicing this type of reflection and gratitude can lead to what I call confident humility. The humility comes from recognizing that so much (most?) of who I am is not my own doing. At the same time in gratitude I am saying what I have received is good, perhaps very good, and that produces confidence.
Confident humility, in turn, gives me the freedom to listen to others. I don’t have to lead with criticism of others to show how smart I am. Whether it is about church, politics, diets, family, or how bad the Chicago Bears are, I can open myself to learn from others who have different ideas than I do.
I don’t have to be threatened by new viewpoints or people who disagree with me because I know most of who I am came from others to begin with. Surprisingly, gratitude has thus taken me on a journey of listening and of learning new things—yes, of even learning I was wrong.
The end of a year and the end of a decade are good times to reflect and to be grateful. They are times to listen for the good, for the true, and for the beautiful regardless of the source.
photo credits: Pixabay 1778011 (University of Arizona); SecularEthos (thank you)