The Gift of Gratitude

There is so very much in my life for which I am ever so grateful. To be sure, there have been some rough moments in my life that I shall never forget. But I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that those rough moments do not all diminish the tremendous goodwill that I have experienced in life. What is more, (a) those rough moments have occasioned tremendous insight with respect to very nature of my character and (b) those rough moments have been rather like a most majestic set of lenses.
I have seen so very numerous people become riddled with bitterness. And that is most unfortunate because the evidence is overwhelming that no one is ever better off on account of becoming bitter. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I fully understand why some individuals become bitter. But among the gifts that an individual can give to herself or himself, not becoming bitter is an ever so majestic gift that an individual can give to herself or himself.

And let me be clear, there is a fundamental difference between (a) not becoming bitter and (b) forgetting the tremendous wrong done to one. Fortunately, (a) does not entail (b). And it is quite a mistake for anyone to think that it does.

Most significantly, I have never encountered a case in which a person is better off on account of having wallowed in bitterness. More precisely, it is not as if being bitter is none other than a gateway to moral healing. Not at all. Indeed, quite the contrary seems to be true, namely bitterness is a serious impediment to moral healing.

What is more, a propensity for bitterness is a major impediment to experiencing gratitude. Thus, there is a straightforward sense in which any human being is bitter-off not being bitter. And fortunately, not being bitter does not entail forgetting the wrong that one had to do endure. I shall never forget having been called mentally unstable about 10 years ago by a Syracuse University faculty member. Just so, there is no respect in which I am carrying some sense of anguish and/or psychic pain on account of that remark. Indeed, not becoming bitter does not at entail forgetting the wrong or inappropriate behavior that one had to endure at the hands of another. Not at all. And a quite wonderful truth about the psychological make-up of human beings is that (1) we can remember the wrong that we endured at the hands of another (2) without wallowing in deep psychological pain. There no logical or conceptual connection between (1) wallowing in pain and anguish. And that reality is an ever so profound moral and psychological gift that is based upon the psychological make-up of human beings. The late-Elie Wiesel is an ever so marvelous example of that reality; for he is a Holocaust survivor who went on lead a quite amazing and inspiring life rather than wallow in the pain of having to endure the Holocaust. Indeed, I have had the privilege of meeting students at Syracuse University who lead a truly wonderful life rather than wallow in this or that anguish.

Of course, gratitude is not everything. Just so, a quite sublime truth is that far more often than not the sentiment of gratitude can make a quite significant difference for the better in terms of some aspect of the life that a person lives. By contrast, bitterness is far more about getting even than not; whereas gratitude is far more about recognizing the ways in which one can flourish than wallowing in despair.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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