Gratitude is free. Or at least it should be. Right?
I know someone who seems to think otherwise, and those around this person are constantly, and I mean constantly, asked, reminded, expected even, to express their gratitude for things given, things done, things provided. It has come to the point, where what is offered by this person is no longer wanted; it’s tainted. Too many strings attached.
When we give a gift, or share our time, affection, insights or kindness, we have to do that because for us it’s just the right thing to do. Not because we expect something in return.
I was thinking about this dynamic this morning, while taking a shower, the home of some our best thoughts, right? I suppose it’s because our actions are so rote and routine and we can’t get distracted by anything; our minds are actually free for those minutes. I digress …
In my quiet moment, I found that I was re-living a conversation I had with this person just yesterday where I was ‘encouraged’ to expect – and ask for! – gratitude and appreciation from a certain group of people that I support as part of my job. I felt myself tense up during this portion of the conversation and I resisted this suggestion; I resented it in fact.
I believe strongly in showing appreciation, saying thank you, and giving credit where credit is due, but we must be free to take those actions on our own, because it is what we feel compelled to do, because it is what we feel. If we are not thanked or recognized, do we stop giving? In some cases, this is a real dilemma affected by many factors. Is it chronic or a one time situation; are we wrapped up in an imbalanced relationship?
No matter the situation, I tend to believe that to demand gratitude is a lose-lose proposition. On the giving end, isn’t the joy of giving compromised if you are just waiting for the gratitude to show up? What if it does not come at all, or soon enough or in the way we imagine it will look like? It seems the only thing that would come back to us is disappointment and perhaps resentment. On the receiving end, wouldn’t our joy be compromised also? Instead of reveling in the ‘gift’, we are instead worried about getting it right and how to fulfill someone’s expectations.
Gratitude is not the same as being indebted to another. It’s normal to feel some kind of emotion when someone helps us, shows kindness and affection or simply just gives us a gift. But the difference is that with indebtedness, we feel obligated to make some kind of repayment and compensate the giver instead of being free to naturally express our gratitude.
But where the distinction lies, the way I see it, is that indebtedness can lead us, as receivers, to avoid the person who has helped us. And, when we are in debt to another, the relationship can never be equal, mutual, free, Gratitude, on the other hand, can instead propel us to reach out freely to those who give and deepen the connection.
Thinking of it in this way, it hit me like a ton of bricks on why I felt resentment towards the person who ‘suggested’ that I demand gratitude from others. And it underscores, and makes clear, unfortunately, my resentment towards the person who demands it from me.
Irony is rarely lost on me. While following through on my normal morning routine, I checked my email and found the latest post from Paula, over at Stuff I Tell My Sister, one of my favorite bloggers, and by the second paragraph she is expressing gratitude, giving thanks to others. She takes it one step further in fact and bestows gifts upon others, me included. I am over the moon full with gratitude. The kind that swells up and just begs to get out. I am smiling again and finding myself in the midst of gratitude shared, earned, given and received. You can bet I want to reach out and deepen that kind of connection. Thank you Paula!
By virtue of circumstance, I must continue to interact with the person who has the idea of gratitude all mixed up; but it is clear to me that I can – and will – own my own interpretation. For that, and so much more, I am grateful.