OK, I confess I wrote last week’s column, “A nation bursting with spoiled brats,” because I wanted to slap people upside the head with something simple, truthful and, I hoped, profound. During a time of celebrating peace on earth and goodwill toward men, I wanted people to think about just how darned lucky we are. Yes, our country has problems, but we’re unbelievably fortunate to live here, especially when compared to lots of other places.
The premise of the column was that we should be grateful for our daily miracles such as clean water, abundant food, modern sanitation and other conveniences … rather than griping and complaining all the time about trivial stuff. After all, who could possibly argue that we are not supremely blessed with abundance in this country? It’s irrefutable, right?
The column ignited a firestorm of protest among those who disagreed. The disagreement came in three broad varieties.
The most common complaint from those who objected to my commentary was that we have no right to be grateful because the world isn’t perfect. We cannot and should not publicly appreciate our blessings because there are others who are poor and downtrodden, and to be grateful for what we have when others are in less fortunate circumstances is tantamount to arrogance. (I think. The logic wasn’t always clear.) Survivor’s guilt, maybe?
It seems this group feels it is incumbent upon us to put any potential gratitude “on hold” until everyone on the planet has a similar level of material misery. What an extraordinary idea. Because everyone’s standard of living is not uniformly distributed, does this mean we shouldn’t be grateful for what we ourselves have? Naturally, I’m not implying we shouldn’t help those who are less fortunate. On the contrary, I think helping others is a beautiful expression of our gratitude for God’s gifts. Unless, of course, you’re not grateful to begin with.
Another type of disagreement came from those who said people doing daily miracles are just using their God-given talents to do their jobs, and they aren’t doing those jobs in order to be thanked. These people are already “thanked” with their pay and that, apparently, is enough.
OK, fine. If you don’t want to thank (or be thankful for) the soldier serving in Iraq or the cardiac nurse who just helped save your life, that’s your choice. Frankly, if it were I on the operating table and someone was getting paid to save my life, it wouldn’t lessen my wish to express appreciation. But hey, that’s just me.
Then of course there were the unoriginal folks who simply dismissed my column as unoriginal. Shrug. There’s nothing new under the sun. Oops – wait, that’s not an original profundity either. Darn.
One trait seems to be shared by all these people and it appears to prove my original point exactly: There are a lot of spoiled brats among us. Fortunately, I did receive a large number of comments from people who agreed that gratitude is a great idea, including a terrific note from one fellow who was “eternally grateful for everything after the discovery of anesthesia” – which I think encapsulates it all.
I must say all the less-than-complimentary e-mails I received raises the question of why some people are reluctant to, or incapable of, expressing gratitude. In a country of extraordinary abundance, why do some complain that the bounty isn’t evenly shared among all the people of the planet, and therefore none of us should be grateful? Silly me for suggesting that gratitude for our blessings is a good thing, because apparently that’s not sufficient for some people. Instead of falling on their knees in appreciation of indoor plumbing and modern medicine and well-stocked grocery stores, these folks prefer to heap coals on the heads of everyone who can afford health insurance because there are some who can’t.
A number of readers took pains to point out what a spoiled brat I am for raising such a subject in the first place. They also questioned a number of other things, including my supposed educational level, my intelligence, my mother’s marital status, my lack of maturity and, oh yeah, my unoriginality. I also received a scolding from my favorite misogynist, a condescending gentleman who has in the past generously offered to “tutor” me until I conformed to his particular worldview because, after all, “women don’t belong in the world of ideas.” (I declined the offer.)
I’m grateful for the critique, folks, but none of it changes my basic premise – though it does serve to illustrate my point: Some of us remain spoiled brats, unable to appreciate a good thing when we have it. I wonder why?
So what exactly is a spoiled brat? It apparently has nothing to do with age, gender or affluence. What seems to distinguish a brat from a non-brat is that brats act like they believe their blessings are deserved, whether they’ve done anything to get them or not. Non-brats realize just how lucky they are simply to be alive, and give thanks for that and so much more. When the power goes out in a storm, a brat calls the power company and demands to know how the bleep they could be so inept as to allow the power to go out. A non-brat pulls out the oil lamps and marvels at how much easier life is when we have reliable electricity. See the difference?
This isn’t to imply we should sit like fat cats, cocky and smug and surrounded by affluence while we let others suffer. Of course not. It behooves us to be generous with our gifts from God. I merely suggested that complaining about the trivial when we are surrounded by the miraculous makes us sound remarkably like … well, you know.
I’ve often heard the platitude that gratitude is an attitude. I never realized just how true this is – or how generous so many people could be in illustrating the point.