At the turn of the century, editor and essayist William George Jordan wrote, “Ingratitude, the most popular sin of humanity, is forgetfulness of the heart. … The individual who possesses it finds it the shortest cut to all the other vices.”
In a world that serves up a steady stream of instant gratification, it is easy to become entrenched in, and eventually enslaved by, an ingratitude-inducing entitlement mentality. And allowing ingratitude to justify and become the shortcut to our own anger, greed or laziness is short-sighted, small-minded and cold-hearted.
Learning to endure or find meaning in the often ignorant ingratitude of those we strive to serve can be a challenge. But it is not a new challenge. You could say that the lives of many of the world’s most influential individuals have been tragedies of ingratitude, where those for whom great sacrifice was made did little to acknowledge, let alone express, gratitude.
We cannot let ingratitude in others slow down or stifle our commitment to make a difference. We also would be wise to spend more time focused on developing the courage and determination to face and evaluate our own ingratitude.
There have been numerous studies surrounding the phenomenon of why family fortunes and wealth do not get passed down beyond a generation or two. This is especially perplexing in cases where, given the assets available, the wealth should perpetuate forever. Celebrated multigenerational wealth expert Lee Brower often cites ingratitude as the No. 1 reason why wealth doesn’t continue from generation to generation.
Brower also teaches that gratitude must be at the core of any approach to wealth management. Total wealth includes gratitude not only for an abundance of tangible assets but for the equally real assets of character, principles, vision, goals, deep relationships, personal connections and meaningful memories.
The courage to face our own ingratitude may be one of the most daunting tests of personal character. Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Ingratitude cannot exist in the same space where awe, wonder and thankfulness create the miraculous in the midst of the common.
Several years ago I had the chance to assist my mother-in-law, Joan Casper, in preparing her biography for printing. She was a most extraordinary woman. She possessed an uncommon combination of grit and gratitude.
Working alongside her husband Bill, they wrestled from the dry and barren soil of the Columbia Basin in eastern Washington their version of the American dream — an apple orchard which eventually featured thousands of fruit-filled trees. The early years were most difficult as they cleared the land, planted trees and started a family that would itself blossom to nine children, 52 grandchildren and more than 70 great-grandchildren.
Joan’s biography was aptly titled, “Dreams Really Do Come True.” It could have been titled, “Gratitude Makes Dreams Come True.” She possessed a child-like awe and gratitude for everything that came her way, including gifts and challenges, trials and blessings.
After the biography was typeset, I spent an afternoon in the printer’s office proofing the text with my sister Jana. The lives of Bill and Joan Casper raced off the pages as a witness of their devotion to each other, their herculean commitment to serve and their gratitude for the opportunity to do hard things.
At one point I looked over at my sister to see that tears were rolling down her cheeks. She pointed to page 98 where I read, through my own tears, this description from Joan about a very lean holiday season: “Bill took off a few hours on Christmas Day. He gave me an aluminum measuring cup … for Christmas. … I was surprised he had taken the time and spent the money to buy something just for me.” To Joan, time and a tin cup were worthy of wonderful awe and gratitude.
Jana whispered, “If only everyone could be that grateful for something so simple, the world would be a very different place.” It would a place filled with love and gratitude — filled to overflowing without measure!
Feelings of love and gratitude seem to naturally swell at this time of year. Properly lived, gratitude isn’t a set of behaviors as much as it is a way of living and being. Gratitude drives out greed, selfishness and entitlement, bringing in its wake a desire to lift and serve others. True gratitude is expressed by action.8 comments on this story
Jordan concluded with this challenge, “Let us conceive of gratitude in its largest, most beautiful sense, that if we receive any kindness we are debtors, not merely to one person, but to the whole world. … Let us realize that it is in kindness to all that we can begin to repay the debt to one.”
Patiently enduring the ingratitude of others while courageously facing and evicting the ingratitude in ourselves is the beginning of better days. Gratitude dispels destructive vices while developing the positive virtues that drive thankful, purposeful and powerful living.