New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Gratitude Adjustment

June 29, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Randall Amster

Being Thankful for a ‘Glass Half Full’

by Randall Amster

Modern life presents myriad challenges, from the interpersonal to the global. New technologies steadily replace the values of authentic community with the surface virtues of the social network. The desire for commonplace convenience and affordable abundance is ironically eroding the capacity of the planet to support us at all. People everywhere are grasping for solutions, yet the problems are escalating.

Among the most common coping strategies are those that hark back to some pristine past in which humankind existed in a more sustainable and harmonious balance with itself and nature alike. The scriptural Eden is a powerful image for conveying what humans have lost, both materially and spiritually, but for some it still connotes a sense of backwardness as we forge ahead with the lot of the fallen.

Others take a less overtly biblical view, at times idealizing early humans as paragons of virtue and exemplars of environmental stewardship. Such constructions often flirt with the “noble savage” mythos, and even graft their sensibilities onto contemporary native and indigenous societies as somehow more evolved in their understandings of human interactions and ecological processes.

On some level, both of these dominant coping mechanisms — the rejection of and longing for Eden — are logically connected. In a parallel scenario, many of us have fond recollections of the innocence and discovery of childhood, even as we learn to prefer the more complex dynamics and pleasures that come with maturation. We can both idealize and strive to surmount the same place of origin.

Culturally and socio-politically speaking, it’s hard to imagine that we can ever truly get “back to the garden,” if such a place ever even existed. Still, we can work to bring the ethos of the garden into modern life. We can plant gardens in our yards, create ones in our communities, and reclaim our capacity to produce food. And we can get closer to the earth and each other in the process.

More importantly, we can reestablish a sense of appreciation for life’s blessings rather than the relentless desire for more that seems to typify our lives today. To me, this is the essential difference between bygone eras and the present: we have cultivated a pervasive “glass half empty” society that continually longs for what we don’t have rather than humbly accepting the bounty in our midst.

Think about how many ways this plays out. We get upset about being passed over for that promotion rather than feeling grateful for being gainfully employed at all. We feel dissatisfied with our cars, devices, families, houses, and more, instead of enjoying them. There is always this longing for what’s next, a quality widely celebrated as virtuous and ruthlessly exploited by marketing strategists.

For me, I would have to say that the single greatest source of discontentment in life is precisely the trap of lamenting what’s absent or denied as opposed to embracing the good in that before us. What’s missing from modern life isn’t primarily pristine habitats and harmonious communities — it’s gratitude. Until we cultivate that, no amount of organizing or idealizing will right the ship in time.

In this spirit, I want to express my sincere gratefulness for the opportunity to be in dialogue with all of you who read and comment on my columns and essays. I recognize this as a rare privilege, even as that cultural tape in my head wants to look back on what didn’t get said or what could have been said more articulately. Still, I can plainly see that the glass is much more than half full.

I thank you for this profound opportunity, for your patience, for your affirmations, and for your principled disagreements as well. I look forward to continuing the dialogue in the days ahead. My sincere hope is that we will all continue to appreciate the experience of community that comes through spirited discourse and debate. I, for one, am immensely grateful for playing a small part in it.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is the publisher and editor of New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012) and Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008).

0 Comments to “Gratitude Adjustment”

  1. Along with your comments, I would add that gratitude is an act of resistance in a culture of consumerism, corporatism, and dissociation. Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy cites gratitude as the thing that grounds us so that we can be strong enough to bear witness to the pain of the world. Both the gratitude, and the honoring of the world’s pain (otherwise known as compassion) lead us to a clearer understanding our our belonging to the world, and thus nurtures a stronger motivation and sense of empowerment to take action on behalf of the world. See her new book, co-authored by Chris Johnstone, entitled Active Hope:How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy, for an expansion of these ideas.

    Thanks for your post!

  2. The Judeo-Christian myth of origin includes the willful eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as an act of personal, adolescent rebellion against God – a choosing to be as gods without the wisdom of a god. This is also the definition of arrogance.

    The Greeks called this hubris, and the necessary precondition for tragedy. This marked the beginning of humanity’s separation from the natural order (the expulsion from the Garden, and a consequent lifetime of pain, suffering and embarrassment). It also marked the beginning of the false notion of human personal autonomy and the much later consequent idolatry of individual freedom, the personal will which serves it, and the paradigm of control.

    We choose to control the world because we fear what will (or might) happen if we let the world control our destiny. Control is the creature of fear; it is birthed, fed and nurtured by fear of the unknown and a refusal to accept that some things are simply unknowable and beyond our control. The tool of control is the will, and the exercise of the will requires constant effort and tension (much like the old saw about a frown requiring more effort than a smile).

    We impose order and ethics on the world we’re given and thereby create the world we think we want. Unfortunately and inevitably, we eventually find ourselves, after struggling to create a heaven on earth, having instead created a living hell. We intend to build a dream by conscious effort, and instead create – like Dr. Frankenstein – a nightmare of our own creation. This is the law of unintended consequences, and it’s as immutable as the law of gravity.

    The lesson that a life bent on control ultimately teaches us is that “resistance is futile”; the House always wins in the end; not only futile but exhausting, debilitating and ultimately self-defeating. So, perhaps wisdom suggests that an easier course would be that of relinquishing control; in other words, surrender.

    A powerful tool or practice for learning surrender is the ancient labyrinth – the seven circuit unicursal (one path) maze that has but a gateway and a destination, which is the (our) center. Because there is only one path, there is only one decision required: the decision to enter. Once across the threshold, no choice is required so no rational mind and no will are necessary.

    Intention starts us on the way, surrender opens the gateway to the unicursal path which draws us along, but it is gratitude which transforms the mundane into the magical, the coal into gold, and allows us to receive the gifts of the Universe along the way and recognize them as precious.

    By following the path of the labyrinth, the path of surrender and gratitude, we will alchemically transmute autonomy into autochthony (literally “native to the soil” or “springing from the land”).
    To be autochthonous is to be native to the place we live, indigenous, arising from place. “We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, the Universe peoples” (Alan Watts).

    The keys to the gate of Eden are surrender and gratitude, and they have always been right in our pockets.

    [More at The Art of Surrender:

  3. For many of the 7 billion people alive on earth,
    poverty, inequality, water shortages, no clean water, no sanitation, inadequate heating, are normal.
    5.4 billion survive on less than $10 a day; 1.4 billion on more than $11 a day.
    Are you suggesting that these communities should be grateful for their miseries?
    I am sure you are not proposing that it is acceptable for 1230 people to be billionaires,living in absolute luxury, and that the 99.9% should be grateful to this elite/plutocracy/oligarchy for providing opportunities for mutual improvement!

    go to…………………..A Discourse: Social Ecology

    • Randall Amster says:

      If more of us were grateful for what we have, there likely wouldn’t be billions living in poverty, nor a handful of elites controlling our lives…

  4. If we were able to accept that most people are poor and deprived as a result of exploitation by the few, then we would be more ready to share our good fortunes.
    One of the fantasies of various societies across time is that these elites are blessed as representatives of the values of their gods. One of the consequences of such fantasies is that these elites are able to justify and defend their good fortunes; to stand up before all others exhibiting their luxury, and declaring themselves as ‘the chosen’. They do not have to change.
    Every body else has to change and pursue the values of the chosen and thus become ‘worthy’.


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