Op-ed column: Resolving to be thankful

It is true that life brings many challenges. It is true all of us experience personal failures as we

What is spiritually active, and brings social and health benefits to all, while transcending — not to forget that — all religions, races, ethnic groups and genders?

It’s gratitude.

As we begin the year 2012, what could be a more appropriate New Year’s resolution than to strive to live daily life with a sharper sense of gratitude.

It is true that life brings many challenges. It is true all of us experience personal failures as well as successes. It is true that the world is not perfect or even very fair to some of us. Yet, despite our personal problems, faced as we are by an array of public idiocies and injustices, it is also true that we live at a privileged place in history. This is often easy to forget.

This may be an opportune time to acknowledge that the New York state economy is not good. The unemployment rate is too high. Nevertheless, we can look forward to the prospect — unlike people in many other countries in the world — that the economy will soon be much better. We have at the very least an established economy to build on.

This may be an opportune time to acknowledge that our New York state public schools are far from perfect. Even so, many are still quite good and we have — unlike people at most other times in history — public schools that teach most children how to read and write and how to start off the day at a regular time. We have at the very least an organized, basic school system that can be made better.

It also may be an opportune time to acknowledge that many people in the Capital Region do not have adequate health care coverage — and this situation is shameful for a state as prosperous as the New York state has been. Yet, still and all, we live in an era when life expectancy has risen to 75.7 years for men and more than 80 years for women. We have at the very least the chance to lead longer and healthier lives than our parents and grandparents.

This may be an opportune time to acknowledge that our New York state legislative system is imperfect. Ethical problems abound. At least, though, we live in a country — unlike many other countries in the world — in which citizens expect clean government. This expectation is at the very least a good foundation from which to evolve a legislative and legal structure that is more open and more fair.

We might also acknowledge that the national debt is too high. Still, we have many ways to solve the problem of the imbalance between revenues and expenditures. These possibilities provide at the very least a good situation to build upon.

This may be an opportune time to acknowledge that the relentless pressures of commercialism warp our values. We can, though, at the very least — as individuals — still elude its insidious influence by making a few wise choices just by saying “no” to much of its bunk and bluster.

This may be an opportune time to acknowledge that many new technological gadgets are unnecessary — hyped as they are under the false claim that the economic benefits of technology always exceed the social costs — but at the very least some of these new tech developments are leading to improved medical treatments and to some increases in economic productivity.

Ingrained bias

Many people apparently believe that it is not possible to live with an attitude of basic gratitude and to express due criticism at the same time. An ingrained social bias exists in some quarters of American life, which sometimes confuses justified criticism with mere negativity.

This unfortunate tendency of mind has blighted the effectiveness of some people. Such a social inhibition should be peculiar in a people with thoroughly democratic instincts. After all, judgment is a necessary precondition for responsible participation.

The fact is that many conditions in the real world require us to be judgmental and critical. It is entirely possible, though, to operate from a foundation of gratitude, yet also, at the same time, to preserve our capacity for exercising necessary judgement.

Basic gratitude is the foundation of our resilience, saving us from being consumed by daily frustrations. It is necessary for some of us to try to raise our daily attitudes far beyond the angles of our daily circumstances. Living with more gratitude requires us to tear ourselves out of ourselves.

Yet such an inner revision of our attitude need not lead to uncritical acceptance of the world around us. Living life with an attitude of gratitude does not require living passively or uncritically. Expressing gratitude involves acknowledging blessings, but it need not lead to a quiet acceptance of corruption and unkindness.

Gratitude is not quietism. It neither necessitates a weakening of our instinct for justice and fairness, nor should a basic attitude of gratitude prevent us from speaking out against opportunistic people or unfair practices.

Inner core

So yes, there remains much to criticize in the state, nation and the world, but our criticism will be more effective if it emanates from an inner core of basic gratitude.

In this new year, let our activities emanate from a basic attitude of gratitude. Let us be grateful, but let us also dare to criticize all which is exploitative and unfair.

Now let’s get back to our New Year’s work of trying to make things better for those around us by demanding common sense and basic fairness from our leaders and in our organizations. Perhaps meaningful ethics reform in Albany would be a good first step.

L.D. Davidson lives in Amsterdam. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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