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Life Goes Betters With Thanks - Steve Pauwels

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Life goes better with thanks

To the Editor:

There's run-of-the-mill ingratitude -- then there's a group of Boise, Idaho homeless people recently suing a Christian shelter because they objected to the institution's "religious atmosphere". The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blessedly vindicated the defendants. But how did America become a society in which so ludicrous a complaint would even be seriously entertained against a completely private charity (the shelter received no federal or state tax dollars) which imposed its creed on none of its guests?

It's Mark Twain seemingly validated: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

My own first-hand, less dramatic but still rather galling, brush with non-appreciation involved no lawsuit, but it rankles nonetheless. Quite a few years ago I was delivering Thanksgiving Food baskets to some of the "needy" in my area. I hoisted the ample trove of festive goodies up two or three flights of stairs and was met at the door by an ill-mannered 20-something who, with sullen diffidence, relieved me of his Turkey Day windfall. Impudently turning his back on me, he might have -- repeat, might have -- muttered a pro-forma "Thank you."

I confess, I didn't return to my car all tingly with holiday warm-n-fuzzies.

No doubt about it, unthankfulness is a festeringly ugly quality all by itself. Compounding its nastiness, however, it provides an anteroom for, conceivably, an even uglier attitude: entitlement.

Ingrates too often slitheringly morph into "everyone-owes-me" boors -- whose sour disposition currently is eating alive continent-sized chunks of the planet's populace. Increasingly, every desirable thing is christened a "right," automatically deserved by every oxygen-consuming bi-ped; and bankrolled by other folks' earnings.

Radio host Dennis Prager has branded "gratitude ... the basis of the two most important things in life: happiness and goodness." "Everything bad," he insists, "flows from ingratitude"; including, by his accounting, "a sense of victimhood ... unhappiness" and the aforesaid entitlement mentality. "We're actually developing bad people by making people feel entitled," Prager shockingly - and probably correctly -- warns.

A 2011 UK College of Arts & Sciences study flat-out identifies gratitude as an antidote to aggression. Empathy for others and pro-social behavior flourish, while hurt feelings and hyper-sensitivity shrivel, when thankfulness shows up, according to psychology professor Nathan Dewatt .

Take a gander at the Occupy Wall Street mob, so many of whom are demanding variously: free college education, health care gratis, guaranteed minimum income (even sans an actual job) and/or erasure of all debts. A conspicuously angry bunch? You bet. Clearly not an especially thankful one.

Or consider a certain Illinois congressman who, mere weeks ago, straight-faced, proposed the president declare a national emergency, suspend Constitutional constraints and pledge a $40,000/year paycheck for every unemployed American. That's their right, y'know. I suppose that's one approach -- if the objective is to pump steroids into our me-oriented culture and even further deepen an already voracious gratefulness deficit.

Thanks to gratitude (forgive the pun), I can literally pinpoint the happiest few hours of my life. Early in our marriage my wife and I agonized over something most young couples take for granted: starting a family. After several heartbreaking years, many tears, and much prayer, a February phone call brought notice of a newborn awaiting adoption in a Guatemalan orphanage. We landed in Guatemala City in November of that year -- curiously, nine months to the day of little Samuel's birth.

We observed Thanksgiving Day down there in an "American-style" restaurant. The holiday comestibles were awful -- I guess turkey and stuffing aren't a Central American specialty? But that Thanksgiving Day was the best ever: celebrated with our little boy.

And that wasn't even the highlight. We three landed stateside the first Saturday of December. It was snowing lightly. Around town, Christmas decorations had been broken out while we were away. Arriving home, It's a Wonderful Life was showing on our television. And, again, our baby was with us.

I was dazed -- pinch-me-I'm-dreaming euphoria.

I like to think I had no problems for about three weeks -- or at least didn't care if I did. Joy over our newly arrived blessing blissfully steamrolled anything that tried to bug me.

Thanksgiving Day recalls a seminal event in the American experience. It wouldn't be inaccurate to specify the holiday also commemorates an attitude: Pilgrim forebears pausing to corporately, purposefully linger in gratitude for God's protection and provision. Contemplating that, we twenty-first century types are supposed to do likewise.

Ancillary benefits might include society's general tone improving for everyone and life sweetening, in particular, for the determinedly thankful. Fewer silly, noxious lawsuits, too.

Steve Pauwels

Londonderry, N.H.

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