Levels of Gratitude

Levels of Gratitude

What is having gratitude? Is it being grateful towards someone when they help you, or is it trait that one learns to acquire or possess as an outlook in their life? If you speak to someone who studies spirituality or religion, the phrase will no doubt come up at some point, but are they truly grateful for whatever, or do they feel that having gratitude is necessary for them to evolve?

From a philosophical viewpoint, gratitude is something that is personal to the self and is when there is honest and true appreciation for something. The problem with spiritual or religious gratitude is that it seems too contrived and even corny. I once joined a Facebook group with a Gratitude Circle more out of curiosity then anything to see what people felt the need to express gratitude for. Things varied from being grateful for waking up, the clear blue sky, and other things such as friendships, and events that happened such as say the neighbor who stopped to give you a lift in the rain. But how do you measure gratitude? Surely there are different levels? I never posted on the group because it would have been disingenuous of me, because there isn’t actually much I am truly grateful for at present. Instead, I found that it was a space for people to boast, and vent and it didn’t inspire me, although some felt it helped them so maybe it served a purpose?

To me, gratitude should be from something unique and that affects and changes your life or day. Yes, one should be grateful for food, shelter, and the basics, but in reality while those things can be lost if you are homeless, for most people they are the norm. That isn’t to say I don’t have gratitude for somethings as I do, in particular some friendships, and the kindness I have seen from strangers. Other than that I am fairly cynical of the world for very few people do things without wanting anything in return, or those who don’t appreciate the trouble people have gone to in order to help them.

When I lived on a spiritual retreat, the concept of gratitude was destroyed in the weekly meeting where everyone had to take a turn and say what they were grateful for that week. It reduced gratitude to such foolhardiness I dreaded my turn. People came up with ridiculous things for the sake of it, such as being grateful for the cook who made their favorite dish of mac n’ cheese that week, to someone saying they were grateful for me organizing a pick up for them from the airport. I tried to smile and nod, but the fact is it was my job as I worked on the front desk answering the calls from the sole phone in the building. He had nothing to be grateful for as I was merely doing my job, and I hadn’t gone out of my way to help him. Gratitude should stem from a selfless act that is freely offered. I hadn’t offered and it wasn’t a selfless act. When you debase gratitude, then it loses the sentiment it actually stands for.

On one occasion someone did express gratitude towards me, and I accepted it with grace. It was from a young college student who had driven up from New Haven to the Berkshires to see if working and staying on a spiritual retreat would help him find himself. He’d arrived late that Thursday and I had got back from Vermont after a day out putting the center’s magazine out wherever we could. I’ll admit I felt a little like a member of a cult doing it, but I knew I could leave whenever I wanted, plus it was an excuse to get out of the center which was seeming more like a prison. Anyhow, I arrived in time for dinner and the newcomer with news of the outside world and fresh tales livened up the evening.

The next day was Friday when people would arrive for the workshops so everyone was busy. I was off that day but had to stay around as I had been assigned KP (Kitchen Patrol ~ a name for washing up) duty. That was one of the problems; when it’s a day off it should be that, but meant I was limited in what I could do that day as I had to be back by 6 p.m. so a relaxing day out wasn’t actually possible without fearing being late. I couldn’t even read or write anywhere because the lounges were being cleaned, and so I was reduced to a corner in a corridor where I sat and chatted to the young lad.

I listened mainly, but told him he should go back to Princeton as he only had 6 months left, and then go off on a nomadic trip to discover himself. I also told him that giving up college to come to the spiritual retreat for 3 months would be a mistake, and confided in him I was  planning to leave as soon as I could. It’s not about the place you are at that can give you clarity and comfort, but it comes from within. Too often we think it we go to a certain place, then magically things will appear and get resolved. They don’t; we may get inspired by nature or by those we cross paths with, but a place alone doesn’t ensure or deliver wisdom, or peace of mind. In fact I admit each day I began with a coffee in a takeout cup and a cigarette by the lake to help me get through the day. Out of all the places I have been to in the world, this was the place I shouldn’t have felt that way.

He had packed all this things and seemed intent on not returning to Princeton, but I reminded him to keep all options open. For some, 6 months seems a long time, but in fact it isn’t and I said if he sticks it out, he would have a bit of paper that could open more doors for him, and it would also give him time to decide what to do. There were options; he could always return and then redo the final year as well if he really wanted to leave so he had choices as well as never to return to Princeton.

I told him a bit about my story, and I had managed to talk him out of staying on at the retreat at least. He decided to head back to New Haven before dinner, and we bade farewell, and I was relieved I had at least saved him from being spiritually discouraged if he had stayed. About 10 minutes later he walked back in and hugged me and said he had decided to stay on and finish at Princeton. He then produced some pages torn out from his favorite book to give to me to show his gratitude. I can honestly say that is the most genuine and beautiful gift anyone has ever given me.

Recently I have experienced people who haven’t shown any gratitude, and who maybe don’t realize that in an attempt to help them it did take up my valuable time and effort which was wasted. What I have learned is that if you are too openly helpful this can be abused. I helped out some elderly neighbors with small tasks such as shopping or changing a lightbulb, but recently it seems to have been taken for granted. There’s a 97 year old who can’t leave the house and she wanted some slippers but no one would help her buy them, so her friend offered to buy them as a gift, and I offered to look online and order them for her. Anyhow, after the first attempt the size she told me was too small and her feet had bandages on and water retention so I reordered two sizes up and two pairs. One fitted but she didn’t like the elastic that held the slipper in place and the other seemed too big. Given it’s summer and not the season for slippers, there is little choice and to be honest I was annoyed as I had to send them back. Neither of the elderly who are both in wheelchairs appreciate the hassle of walking a mile to a post office to mail them back, when the slippers actually fitted and were a gift. Apparently she rang to say don’t bother to reorder, although I had already decided, my generosity had been stretched too far already.

You see one must be able to differentiate from the different levels of gratitude, where someone goes out of their way to help as opposed to an inner gratitude of being grateful when you appreciate what you have usually because you haven’t had it before or have lost it at some point. However. gratitude should not be debased, for we can be grateful on many different levels, but trying to find things to be grateful for is unnatural. There is nothing wrong if there isn’t anything you are grateful for, and it doesn’t make you a bad person either. Gratitude comes from within and naturally without having to think about it, and there is no price tag on it. Should we be grateful each day for something? That is for you to decide because it’s personal and you don’t need to share it with anyone.

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If You Have Nothing Nice To Say, Say Nothing At All ~ Right or Wrong?

Many of us have grown up with the above saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all,” but is this applicable all of the time? One doesn’t wish to be a hypocrite, but when there is silence when a question is asked, then that silence speaks louder than words.

We all come across occasions when we have said the wrong thing, have over stepped the mark, offended without intent, or were unaware of the circumstances when saying something, but that is human. Some may judge you as tactless or consider it bad manners, which is why silence or knowing when to be silent can either be considered safe or perhaps others mistake is as quiet enabling.

Should we be afraid to ask questions if they are reasonable and why are we afraid of the truth and honesty? If so, then where is the art of real conversation going? Then we may ask, what is considered reasonable? Recently, a friend said someone called Anna was staying on their sofa. A reasonable question is to ask who that is, isn’t it? I was met with silence as eventually it was revealed she is a grandchild that was being fostered, and whom my friend didn’t want to discuss. They felt embarrassed because they were afraid I would judge them and I felt bad because I wondered if I had over stepped the boundaries. We did however clear the air, because they knew I didn’t know who Anna was, and I replied I could just pretend I knew or that I didn’t want to know. Which option is better, and what is the point of it?

I had another incident where I was visiting a friend, and her partner invited his best friend and wife along. A reasonable question to ask if how did the couple meet—it’s simple harmless conversation after all. My friend then reprimanded me and said it was wrong of me to ask because they were having marriage difficulties. To be honest, I don’t think I was in the wrong; if one is at a dinner party and is introduced as a couple it’s a very normal safe question to ask. If they were having marriage problems, they should be alone sorting them out and not expecting others in public to tip toe around their issues.

In other cases, should you remain quiet when things are facts? Facts cannot be disputed and are not opinion based, and the truth is some facts aren’t very nice. Should you remain quiet and only discuss nice and good facts, and ignore the bad ones or pretend they don’t exist? When someone asks you what you think about someone, should you lie, or remain quiet if you don’t like them? By remaining quiet or giving a neutral answer such as, “They seem okay,” you are being polite, but not truthful and people know. By sparing their feelings, you are also losing a bit of integrity and step closer to that of being a hypocrite, afraid of the truth.

The current generation doesn’t appear to adhere to this rule of remaining quiet, and often express their views without any regard for the consequences as they feel they have a right to speak their minds. We do theoretically, but should also consider whether it’s an opinion or fact. Opinions and perceptions will always change and vary according to the person, but facts will remain the same, and you can try and distort them, but essentially all you are doing is denying a truth that you prefer not to know.

A good person shouldn’t intentionally say things to harm another, but if telling the truth (no matter how nasty) could help, surely that is better than remaining quiet? An example is if you know someone is being unfaithful, should you say something when asked or not? The problem I see in society today is that people fear the truth and would rather not know things. However, there are tactless people who say things that can offend and harm others and because no one has told them this, they continue. That’s why sometimes it’s good to tell someone so they know what the boundaries are.

I do try to always find something nice or neutral to say, but I’m from the School of Honesty is the Best Policy. It’s a case of how it’s delivered rather than the content though, so I don’t offend most of the time when I tell the truth. The fact is that we can’t always be nice, but should strive to be and because so many people do try and stay silent or give non-answers when they don’t wish to offend, it already tells the other party that they wanted to say something that wasn’t so nice. Therefore, do we humans play a game of pretending and choosing what sounds better versus the truth?

The truth is that honesty isn’t always pleasant, but is that better than a half-baked fib so as not to upset someone? The answer in polite society is to opt for the safe half-baked lie. However, an underlying consequence is that people are then deluded and continue with behaviors that could be questionable. The question is, is that right, to enable these behaviors? While I always advocate honesty wherever possible, it’s only pertinent when that person can accept it or is willing to.

When it comes to discussing those in the public eye, we can ascertain from the facts (from their past behaviors and choices) what we choose to perceive. The fact is they have chosen to be in the public eye through being a celebrity or a politician and therefore should expect to be scrutinized, and accept that not all things said about them will be nice. That doesn’t mean they should be targeted, but if someone is part of a cult and they publicly say and do things that offend others, then people have a right to say what they think about them. Another example is when people are called gold diggers, and their history shows a pattern alluding to that, perhaps they are, but there is no law against it. Certain things can’t be proven, but can be deduced easily, so should people remain silent in this case too? People can state probable and likely facts, even if they aren’t so nice if they have an element of truth.

Basically, if you choose to say nothing at all to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, just because you haven’t said what you think doesn’t alter the fact that you had a negative thought. They probably know it, and if they persist and ask if you are being honest, then what do you do? The dilemma is then to lie to pacify, and so silence isn’t always the easy option if you don’t deliver it convincingly. That’s why I advocate tactful honesty based on facts, and in the worse case, to offer no opinion through ignorance. Realistically, people must learn from hearing a few dark truths, because the world and humanity aren’t perfect, but we should find a balance between honesty and avoiding hurting others feelings whenever possible, but not to tip toe around the truth all of the time.

The True Cost Of Integrity

Principles matter to me and always have done, but exerting them and standing by them has come at a cost. Others may call it stubbornness or choosing my battles poorly, but if you can’t sleep at night then what good is that? I used to think integrity and morals were natural traits that all humans learn, but as I am now in my fourth decade I realize that while humans have that capacity, it’s a choice that many don’t opt for.

Once upon a time I also believed that having morals didn’t cost anything, it shouldn’t and I’m not talking financially (although that does come into it), but at a personal cost. Having integrity and morals can cost you in many ways; friendships and relationships, financially, and most importantly your self-esteem and worth. Why the latter you may ask? It’s because it gets questioned and judged by others, and no matter how resolute you are in what you believe is right, it’s hard to ignore others perceptions and how they react. It shouldn’t matter, but unless you are a hermit then human interactions will be important and necessary at some point.

As a child I would stand by my principles and beliefs, and it was hard because as a minor you have limited rights. The legal rights and moral rights are blurred between whether you are able to make an educated choice, or when the law deems that you are old enough. The ironic thing is one cannot ascertain capacity by age alone—there are many 50 year olds who legally can make choices, but in reality lack the education or ability to make moral or sensible ones. However, society has to create some kind of boundaries with age limits to protect some and also to enable others to have choices.

The emotional cost of exercising your morals and standing by your integrity can be boundless. I say that because often others will not understand why you choose the long and less obvious path, and may try and make you feel guilty, call you a traitor, and some may even physically attack you if not verbally or bombard you with emails and texts filled with hate and anger. There maybe false accusations too, in an attempt to elicit an apology to convince you to change your mind. While it is prudent to choose your battles wisely, you must also look at the potential outcomes not only for those concerned but also for yourself. Ultimately you must live with the choices made, and also your honest reasons for doing so. That includes giving advice or support only when asked, however, when one supports it’s not merely a case of telling someone what they wish to hear for that would be a disservice, but finding a way to help tactfully. If they are wrong and clearly making a poor decision then why would you encourage and support that? By enabling it you aren’t assisting but are choosing an easy way, thus diminishing your integrity on your moral compass.

Ignorance is not always bliss because guilt has a habit of reminding you of what you could have/should have done or said at the time. I’ve come to terms with most of my guilt for I too took the advice and at several points in my life chose to look the other way. It wasn’t really my business, and I had too much going on—well, that’s what I said to myself at the time. By the time I hit my mid-thirties you realize that you do have choices, and taking sides may be profitable financially and less stressful initially, but those sleepless nights can haunt you indefinitely.

There have been several times I have been falsely accused and I stood my ground to prove my innocence, and what I have found is justice is slow, painful and costly in financial terms as well as the mental toil that comes with it. I believe in justice because if people didn’t stand up for what is right, then it enables others to get away with misdeeds. However, I understand why people choose to settle or back down and I don’t judge them harshly. They may feel the mental pressure is too much, or that the outcome could harm others, and financially it could lead to poverty. In my case, I received no real apology, financially it cost me, mentally it wore me down, I lost friendships (people who had believed the other party eventually stopped threatening me, but only one said sorry), and my reputation had been tarnished. Would I do it again? Probably, because I know justice was done and it was a necessary action to take, and the justice system found in my favor.

How do you deal with situations where people are in denial and don’t wish to hear the truth? Do you listen and just nod or do you help them face the truth? The former is easier, but what if something happened and you know you could have stopped it or said something to prevent tragedy? Would you feel guilty and that you had some blame? The latter is a little more complex than merely telling the truth because it is usually met with hostility and anger.

I’ve had more than my fair share of people questioning my loyalty when in fact often people don’t wish to listen or actually want advice, but need someone to vent at as a punch bag for their errors or poor choices. I’m faced with either keeping quiet because whatever I say will get twisted and thrown back at me, and if I do remain quiet I am then questioned as to why I am not being a supportive friend. Either way I have discovered there is no easy or peaceful way to ‘support’ someone, so I am left with with determining my actions by my integrity. That means to tactfully convey the truth and to offer advice and support honestly. Usually that means finding a way to tell someone that they may have been to blame, or that if they are making excuses (such as I have no time, or I have no money, or I don’t know where to go) not to resolve something that it is indeed an excuse and not a reason. Generally people don’t like to hear the truth when they are reluctant to face things, but that is not your lesson. Your lesson is to know when to stand by your morals and integrity even if the consequences aren’t that pleasant. Telling someone it’s fine to invoice for something that didn’t exist because no one will check, is that moral? While they will make the final choice, advocating it as acceptable behavior isn’t. It’s called fraud, and while many people sweep these small acts daily under the radar it doesn’t take away the fact of what it is.

Having integrity and morals can be a costly exercise and a lonely one at times. It doesn’t guarantee sleep at night either (one would think it would), but deep down you know you did the right thing even if no one else acknowledges or appreciates it, although you may question your actions when no one else approves. I’ve been verbally abused so many times, and yet those who did the abuse hurling remain stuck in their pit of denial and pool of pity of woe is me. What I have learned is some people don’t wish to learn even if I tell them this is a lesson for them to learn from. They simply don’t want it and exclaim it’s too hard and don’t want to take any responsibility. We all have an element of responsibility in life to one another as humans. That doesn’t mean we should forsake our own integrity to make others feel better about themselves when they are either lying or opting not to help themselves. There is a fine line between interference and guidance for each of us have choices, and guidance is merely proffering alternate options that may not have been considered.

I can sleep at night, not that well as I have insomnia and an overactive mind that has so many ideas and thoughts passing through constantly, but on a moral level I know that my integrity is intact. Yes, like many I have regrets and some tiny fragments of guilt from my greener days, but I have learned from them and learned to live with them. We all create different boundaries for our morals and levels of integrity, and that is priceless. I can say it’s worth the verbal abuse, and spates of loneliness, which may sound strange, but I can look in the mirror and know that I am honest and I am at peace within myself because no one owns me or can buy my integrity.