“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
— John F. Kennedy
The quotes above is one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder that expressing gratitude is more than saying ‘thank you’.
It’s fitting that this month’s optional theme for the #1000Speak posts is ‘gratitude’. After all, here in the US, the Thanksgiving holiday falls on the 4th Thursday of the month. And, although, I have no regard for the highly idealized, largely untrue, story of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims sitting around a big table eating turkey, I do appreciate the notion of having one day a year set aside to think about what we have to be thankful for. Especially those of us living in an area not plagued by war or famine, with steady jobs, and homes, and cars, and families to connect with – even if not geographically close.
So then, this month’s post should have flowed so easily, but it hasn’t. Just as Pope Francis has recently expressed his frustration with the state of the world at to the start of global Christmas celebrations “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace . The whole world is at war.”
I, too, am having issues expressing gratitude for what I have when so many have so little. And when many others have no regard for human life. And it’s discouraging that the kindness in the world, and there is still quite a lot of it about, gets lost in all of the reporting of violence, and the fear-mongering hate speech that drowns out the voices asking for reason.
“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”
― Dalai Lama
Fundamentalists from all three of the major Western religions have convinced themselves that the end times are upon us, and they seem to feel obligated to do their part to make sure it happens. There is a massive refugee crisis now due primarily to the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. And yet, too many people choose to focus their time and energy on manufactured outrage – like whether or not Starbucks’ holiday cups are an affront to Christianity. Which is discouraging, at best, when there are so many real things happening that we should be concerned about.
So yes, I feel like what I have matters little in comparison. Which is not to say that I’m not grateful, I very much am. But I’m frustrated. I just wish that there was more that I could do to affect a positive change for the rest of the world.
And so I have to remind myself that, while changing the course of the rest of the world is out of my hands, the small things I can do for others, and even continuing to share thoughts about compassion in my writing, do in a small way help bring about change. Every person that I touch in a positive way has the potential to share that positivity with others that they come into contact with. And the very fact we do pay positivity forward, even when we don’t realize that we do it, is something else that I’m thankful for. AIt demonstrates that there is hope for humanity to somehow move past the current traumas, and find a way to build a better tomorrow.
“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn
The future is indeed a succession small events. And in order to maintain our own inner balance, and remind ourselves good can be done, we need to build from the small. Self-improvement and spring cleaning gurus will always tell you to break your list down into small manageable pieces so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and just give up. So it is with life and hope. Focus on what you can do, and work from there.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero