Gratitude or Attitude

On Thanksgiving 2020, on the heels of a contentious election and in a climate of acute division and divisiveness, Americans have a choice to make which may determine the future of the Republic. While there has been some talk of reconciliation and reunification, there are still many who are stoking the flames of conflict. The choice that we must make at this point is between whether to proceed with gratitude or attitude.

“Attitude,” in its strict and proper definition, simply means a perspective or disposition. But in the colloquial sense of the term, it refers to a state of aggression and antagonism. The question is whether it’s possible to have an attitude without having attitude. And the answer is of course it is. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, even a strong opinion. There’s nothing wrong, for that matter, with having a gripe or complaint. An attitude becomes attitude when one believes that any alternative point of view is invalid, unacceptable, and malicious. Rather than listening and considering the reasons for the other’s perspective, one with attitude has concluded, prior to any discourse or interchange, that there is nothing legitimate, logical, or defensible about it. And furthermore, anyone who does not conform to her/his attitude is malevolent and needs to be aggressively opposed.

The antidote to “attitude” is not simply patience, tolerance and empathy. It is gratitude. Gratitude is the consciousness of that which is good around me, while attitude is the focus on only what is objectionable and bad. Attitude comes from a perspective of victimization and indignation. It screams ‘I am being wronged and I need to lash out. I need to fight for what I am due, and I need to punish those who have opposed, deprived, and oppressed me.’

Gratitude does not ignore or deny one’s hardship and/or valid grievances. It does not resign one to her/his current condition, or condemn her/him to continued suffering or mistreatment. But gratitude enables one to see beyond the current moment and the immediate circumstances. Gratitude says ‘I may not yet be where I want to go, but I appreciate every step of progress along the way. I appreciate how far I have come while simultaneous recognizing how far I have to go. I have hurdles ahead of me, and there are those who stand in my way, but rather than running into them headlong, I will recognize their humanity, our commonality, and their role in my journey.’

Attitude is the desire to fight. Gratitude is the desire to build and grow. Attitude is fire, and gratitude is clay. While attitude seeks to burn and condemn, gratitude seeks to mold and flex and join and construct.

Life is imperfect. There are no utopias, and no one is as happy or comfortable as we imagine them to be. Rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, left or right, we are all contending with challenges and trying the best we can to assure that we will be better today than we were yesterday. We can attack the inevitable struggles with attitude and outrage, or we can embrace them with gratitude and optimism. Greater progress is not always achieved through greater force. More often than not, we will accomplish more with a handshake or a bow than we will with a tackle or a punch.

On Thanksgiving, it is worth pausing to reflect on all that we have, as well as everything that we can give. There are those in our country who are suffering, and those in other countries who would give anything to be here. America is an evolving project that has seen tremendous successes and numerous failures. Its greatest attribute is the ideology of liberty and equality on which it was founded, and its greatest promise will be realized only if its many diverse constituencies can come together and work collectively.

This will require patience and optimism. It will require us to leave attitude at the door and approach one another with gratitude for what we have inherited and learned, as well as hope and faith in what we will be able to accomplish together.

Happy Thanksgiving!