I recently read a post on social media: “I used to complain about not having shoes till I saw a man with no legs”. Roughly interpreted it means that we should grateful for what we have because there are so many who don’t even have that.
A very thoughtful message but I have a question. Why is gratitude a matter of comparison? Why do I have to be grateful for having something that other people don’t have? What if I never meet a man with no legs, should I not be grateful for my shoes?
This attitude starts right in childhood; ‘drink your milk because there are kids who don’t get milk’ or ‘finish your food because there are children who are starving’. And most kids would willingly give away their milk and green vegetables to these children. I met a child who asked his mother why she was stealing the food of the children who wanted it and giving it to him when he did not even like it!! How does that make them appreciate their food? If everybody in the world had food, should I still not be grateful for it?
I have seen a lot of mothers compare the grades of their children with others. It does not matter how much you score as long as your score is not less than that of your friends. And then the children are motivated to study because they have ‘everything’ and how others don’t. So do I study because I have a separate room and lots of books or do I study because I want an education?
A lot of people try to comfort a person undergoing depression by saying ‘there are so many who suffer more’. How is that supposed to cheer me up? I would feel even more depressed. How does hearing that someone else is suffering more than I am help me cope with my suffering? Should I not focus on learning to cope with my problems and then help someone else with my experience?
It is really sad that we have to learn gratitude from someone’s misery. I know the intention is to make one understand and appreciate smaller things in life or maybe even develop empathy for the less privileged. But can that not be done without the comparison?
Imagine this situation, a child whose plate is full sees a beggar child on the road and gratefully eats all that there is on his plate and another child who sees a beggar child and shares what is on his plate. A child who studies harder because there are kids who can’t go to school and a child who comes back from school and plays with the maid’s son sharing his crayons as they both draw together. A young woman putting up with sexual harassment at office because she is grateful she is not a rape victim or a young woman reaching out to others who face harassment and putting a stop to it. Who has more empathy? Which one of them has learnt gratitude?
You don’t have to have more to be grateful. If seeing someone in pain takes away your pain then you need to search within. Gratitude is being thankful for what I have and not what others don’t have. I am thankful that I have a healthy body, a sane mind and basic comforts not because I meet people who don’t have any of these. I am grateful because I can use all these to help people who don’t have what I have.
Gratitude is another word for being thankful and not another word for guilt. We don’t need to guilt trip someone into being grateful. I appreciate what I have because it helps me and not because someone else is deprived of it.
Next time you meet someone without legs use your hands to help them and then be grateful for your hands…
Next time you eat use the energy to better the society and then be grateful for the food on your plate…
Next time you see orphan hug him and then be grateful to your parents who taught you how to love…