Director Palmetto Bay Academy
“Happiness depends upon ourselves.” – Aristotle
Or does it?
They smiled at me. Maybe it wasn’t the biggest smile in history, or maybe it was, but to me it was as if the sky had opened up and every ray of sun since the dawn of time was coming through. There was happiness, there was joy and there was gratefulness in their eyes. And my own need to scream “Thank You!” from the rooftops to each and every person who helped us along the way was overwhelming.
You see we recently moved to the last stage of adopting three amazing, inspiring children from the Foster Care system in the State of Florida. They were 10,12 and 17-year old handfuls of joy, with a level of challenge and energy that is changing our world forever. They moved into our home permanently this past Friday, November 17th, and amid the chaos, laughter, glee and hugs was the overall emotion of gratefulness.
We were grateful the court order had been processed so quickly. We were grateful the transition from their Foster Care and group home had gone smoothly. We were grateful that their team of counsellors, case workers, therapists and adoption specialists had moved mountains to get these children into our home only four days short of two months from the first night we met them. Mostly, though, we were grateful to be together.
Prior to that night my husband and I spoke often of how the process was “going”; what was “happening” in the journey and how thankful we were for all of it. The language made it seem as if it was almost a robotic process, occurring and wheels and cogs shifted in the monstrous machine that is the system, and at the end of the program out came our family. And how then would we be thankful for a system functioning the way it should? If that were really how the world worked each and every endeavour of this nature would be a guaranteed success. There is nothing to be thankful for; just a process to initiate and follow through to completion.
Yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. The gratefulness coursing through all of us didn’t stem from what had occurred “to” us. It wasn’t a passive act that just happened as random energy-bursts from the universe. This process occurred from the effort, sweat, tears and hard work of dozens of people along the way. And that feeling of gratefulness wasn’t random either. It grew from the benefit, care and concern we had been the recipients of from others on the journey with us. That was the key to our success.
It occurred to me that so often we create a dichotomy of thought for ourselves and certainly our young people. We say that the ideal is to be independent, self-reliant and autonomous. We also want very deeply to teach our children to be grateful, thankful and honouring of others. Yet so often our greatest successes come when we allow others to share with us in some positive way. We are social creatures, created and designed to work best together. When another’s skill, talent, thoughts, effort and even connections benefit us why is it that we often question why we couldn’t do things ourselves? Shouldn’t we be enough without others?
From one of our earliest thinkers, Aristotle, came the notion that gratitude was a sign of weakness. In his book The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place and Community in a Global Age Mark T. Mitchell noted, “…Gratitude is not included among Aristotle’s lists of virtues. It is, instead, a sign of dependence.” And yet for centuries we have also striven to teach that the act of thankfulness, showing gratitude, is essential to being civil and morally just.
So why the issue between the two? If we come to accept that we are no less independent, no less strong and no less capable if we are able and willing to benefit from the skills and abilities of others we free ourselves to express gratitude and to teach our children to do the same. How much more empowered we can become when we can not only rely on our own skills, talents and gifts and in addition benefit from, and show gratefulness for, the skills and talents of others? We are infinitely more capable of handling the world we live in when we allow ourselves to benefit from others in our circle. The act of gratefulness brings us more, so much more, than we could ever gain alone. We are exponentially more empowered when we see the incredible value the efforts of others have in our lives and when we show them, at every opportunity, how grateful we are for what they bring to us.
While Aristotle may be one of the greatest thinkers in human history, he missed the mark in some ways on gratefulness. Gratefulness does not show us as weaker. Gratefulness gives us strength.