insights

09 December 2018

To Be Thankful Is Not A Commitment

Dog

To be thankful is an entitlement. It is not a commitment—unless the person chooses to make it her own commitment.

I could live as if life is granted to me by an act of grace and I could choose to be grateful, that is my choice. I am entitled to make this choice. Because it is a singular choice, there are other choices I am entitled to as well.

A person could choose not to be grateful. “I did not ask for your generosity!” someone could say. And even if the person has asked for an act of grace, she could still choose to not be grateful, unless she has promised to be so. To be grateful is a commitment only if I commit myself to being grateful.

It is a choice; “Thou shalt be grateful” is not a categorical imperative.

But some people speak as if being grateful is an “ought”. To justify gratitude as a normative obligation, comparing the person who ought to be grateful to someone less fortunate or more disadvantaged. They say, “you should be grateful that you have this illness; so and so contracted a worse disease” and, “you should be grateful you have access to treatment; that person does not even have insurance”. Statements like these are simply insensitive and are better left unsaid. Saying that I should feel better about myself because there are those who are more miserable than I, is not right. That I am miserable and that there is someone else who is more miserable than I, is actually doubly bothersome. Because someone else has been dealt a worse hand, the notion that we should not feel bad about our bad hand, is an equally bad argument. I can still feel bad for both our bad hands.

The person who makes such arguments, speaks with very little understanding of those who suffer. We, the unfortunate, learn what it means to ache and many of us are privileged to empathize with those who, like us, have pain. We understand pain, it hurts more to know that someone else maybe dealing with similar, or worse, pain. We do not want to be those who feel better when others suffer.

When the comparison concerns our social conditions, the argument becomes even more flawed. When the comparison arises from differences in attaining social rights, the idea of being thankful for having more privileges than others is similarly problematic. Those who make these arguments also assume that injustices in our society are either just and right or inevitable. The fact that some among us have less access to health, treatment, and medicine is not to be accepted as the nature of things. If I have access to health care and someone else does not, I will not be thankful. I will call out that this injustice is wrong and should not exist. We all are entitled to having access to what should be an entitlement to every person.

Of course, I am not arguing here that we should not be grateful. My argument is simply that, “you should be grateful” is simply erroneous.

And I am grateful.

I am grateful and want to be grateful. I am grateful for having others to be grateful for.

I am grateful because my other is free to be here—or not. They choose to be in every moment. I am not entitled to their commitments unless they grant me that privilege. They announce their commitment, but they could also change them as well. I cannot take for granted that the people, as I know them, will be here, nor that they will be as I may know them tomorrow. They are free. Because they are and because they will become, I am grateful since I am with them.

I worry about being the one who expresses gratitude only so that people are or act in a way they think I want them to be or act. I say “thank you” because as people do and I find meaning, I appreciate and cherish

I express my gratitude also because I care. I am conscious that I appreciate it when others appreciate me. I know that it feels good to be appreciated. Thus I express my gratitude.

I also take the position of gratitude because I like myself better when I am grateful. Instead of being mad when my dog eats a bottle of vitamins, I make sure to put my medicine away and I remember to be thankful that my dog is there. He has always been there for me and given me love. I replace my anger with joy. Instead of being annoyed by the chaos in the house my partner and I made, I remember to be grateful that we are well enough to make chaos and that she is here. Instead of being sad for the years I may not live and the people I will leave behind, I look at today and decide to be thankful I am still here and remember the beautiful moments I had with them all.

But I am not thankful all the times, simply because I cannot. I am thankful when I am. And I am thankful because I still can be thankful.