Back Online, Back to Gratitude
A happy Thanksgiving to everyone! A happy festive season as we move into the northern hemisphere's still, dark point. Time to reflect, to consume this year's harvest, to huddle and cuddle, enjoy one another. Even here, where the sun shines almost every day of the year, the days are short and cold. A touch of frost a couple nights ago, even one or two overcast days.
When I was reading and reflecting about "gratitude" for last week's "word of the week" post, it troubled me that so many definitions and discussions imported this conditional/quid pro quo/obligational concept into the giving of thanks and the attitude of thanks. Even the multilingual wordle image in the previous post prominently showed the Portuguese for "thank you," obrigado -- "obliged." Posh English can say "much obliged" as a way to thank someone.
But one of the ickiest things I've ever heard: when someone thanked her partner for something, he said, "You owe me one."
Icky, because that sense of obligation or owing is so utterly opposed to the pure, true notion of gratitude.
Now of course, the concept of gratitude and thankfulness is based on duality. It's an attitude or action from a person to a person, object, or concept. Even if I'm grateful for myself, two selves are involved: the self experiencing the gratefulness and the self inspiring it.
But it's not like a seesaw or a pendulum or a game where players take turns, my move "prompts" your move... I'm glad for all that you do, but maybe you don't know me, and I certainly don't expect you to be glad in return. I am grateful for ancient writers who passed from this earth before I was even a twinkle in my mother's eye, and for writers and teachers alive now who don't know I exist.
Still, just in terms of the words and their use, in English and other languages, the duality seems to have bled into a sense of obligation. I want to rehabilitate gratitude as dual, yes, and even reciprocal, since it's a recognition of the divine in another--divine sparks divine, but as pure, sincere, and expecting nothing in return. I feel obligated to make a stand for this, since I was gifted the phrase "unconditional gratitude."