On Gratitude

\"\"Gratitude has been called the shortest lived emotion. I’ve seen enough in my many years to agree that statement’s pretty spot on.

However, I don’t think that gratitude has a short lifespan. I still feel deeply grateful to a handful of people from even decades ago.

So gratitude can live for a long time, but it almost never does. I’m afraid its early demise is often a case of…….murder!

Some folks are just ungrateful by nature. They might feel a tug of gratitude deep within their hearts when someone does something special for them, but they quickly bludgeon it to death and get on with invading Poland or whatever.

Many more people just have trouble expressing gratitude. When that happens, the imbalance causes inner turmoil that must be resolved. Thankfully, people can rationalize anything (“it wasn’t that big of a deal”) and time can fade any obligation. Gratitude starves and dies, and balance is restored.

And finally, even if one does express gratitude, it can then represent a heavy debt. Do you now owe that person for the rest of your life? How can you even the score? (One easy way: start to resent them!)

Thanking Great Teachers

I wrestled with feelings of gratitude last week because my sons were wrapping up their school year – my youngest “graduated” Kindergarten and my eldest finished elementary school.

They had, by a massive margin, the best teachers we’ve experienced in their young academic careers. (There’s nothing quite like having bad teachers to make you eternally grateful for the good ones.)

We’ve joined all the little fundraisers and teacher appreciations and everything through the year, and we’ve thanked them numerous times in person for the wonderful job they’ve done, but it didn’t feel quite enough.

What is fair compensation for teachers who are outstanding, inspiring, nurturing, and just? What payment is due them for providing a role model of professionalism and restoring my eldest son’s faith in teachers? A $25 gift card?

A small token would seem to diminish everything they’d done, while an extravagant gift would seem mercenary and gauche.

As I wondered what to do, I was reminded of the wisdom of William James:

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”

So I simply got out my stationery (yep, I still have stationery) and wrote a note of sincere thanks to each of the teachers. While it would seem a small gesture, it took me a long time to get the thought right (you are aware, I think, of how painfully slow a writer I am). Perhaps when they received it, they just shook the envelope in search of a gift card that wasn’t there. Perhaps they just said, “Huh. Thanks, I guess. BTW you write like a girl.”

But I hope they felt a small measure of the enormous gratitude we hold for them. I hope they felt, in what can often be a thankless job, truly appreciated.

We also wrote the principal a detailed note to tell him how extraordinary these teachers were. He’s already responded and said he would be communicating our and his thanks to each of them.

How Do You Pay Back a Great Teacher?

I’ve had a handful of truly great teachers, and they have given me a significantly better life that I would have had without them. How many gift cards is that worth? What kind of reward could even the score?

The simple truth is there is no way to ever pay back a truly great teacher. That isn’t a bad thing.

When you properly express gratitude, and then gladly embrace that debt, you have to find other ways to bring yourself to balance. We will use these teachers as examples to our boys of how they should conduct themselves and how they should help other people. Every one of us can be a teacher, and when the great teachers in our lives know they’ve inspired us to help others, they will feel appreciated indeed.


6 thoughts on “On Gratitude”

  1. That is SO WONDERFUL. 🙂 I’d love to give this a try once I have kids in school. Teaching is such a difficult career, but we should treat our teachers like heroes in our communities. 🙂 On gratitude itself, I know I could do a lot better. It’s easy to get used to the great things you have and not notice them any more. The best thing is to list what you’re thankful for each day.

    1. Totally – the best teachers are certainly driven by something deep inside, ’cause it certainly isn’t money or recognition.

      I think quickly resetting to accept good things happening as expected / the norm is one of our well-honed caveman survival techniques (along with instantly going back to crisis mode when things aren’t good). It doesn’t leave us as well-equipped to deal with the modern world and be thankful every day, though. I’m like you – I need to focus more on a daily reflection of thanks. With that in mind, thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. I still remember some of my teachers from elementary. It’s amazing how big of an impact they can really have in shaping who you are as a person. Especially what you are interested in learning 🙂 I hated science until the 6th grade when I had an amazing teacher. I am definitely grateful for her 🙂

    1. I’m the same way – my greatest teachers didn’t take my favorite subjects and make them even more fun, they took ones that were really hard and perhaps not as interesting and made them come alive. It does make you wonder how many people a truly great teacher can touch over the course of a life.

      Thanks for the note

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