Tag Archives: inspiration

fatherhood

Fatherhood For The Masses.

I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.

I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.

Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.

They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.

And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article from The Onion.

Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.

And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.

I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.

home improvements

Homeowner Wisdom, From A Tool Idiot.

By: Chris Warren.

Back in the summer of 2015 I wrote an article about people who have good intentions but no skill for home repairs and how they always manage to botch up even the simplest job. What I left out was that any homeowner who is quite handy with tools owes the “tool idiot” a debt of gratitude.

A new construction house is a poor teacher. When a building is sparkling and new, there is nothing to change or fix. It will be many years, maybe a decade or more, before any major upgrades or repairs should be needed. But an older house carries with it the wisdom and skill of the previous homeowner, or if the case may be, the flubs and foibles of the previous homeowner.

My house is about 35 years old, and I’ve lived here for fifteen of those years. The guy who owned this place before me was a “tool idiot”. He meant well and really tried, but pretty much everything he touched became a fat smelly turd. One would think fifteen years is enough time to undo all his screw ups, yet even now I still occasionally come across one of his homeowner from hell Frankenstien efforts.

At first it was easy & obvious stuff: Upside down hardware on the doors. Ten feet of trim held up by only two nails (and they were incorrect nails). Bathtub caulk that looked like it was put on by someone having a seizure. Then I got into the hidden treasures: A bathroom fan that vents to nowhere. Pink paint under wallpaper that needed numerous coats of primer to cover up. Plumbing that defies the laws of physics. A deck put together with three different kinds of screws.

Sometimes his flubs actually worked to my benefit, namely, wallpaper so poorly hung that I effortlessly tore it off in huge sheets. My dad is a supreme handy man and homeowner. He can do pretty much everything, and he usually helped me with the bigger projects.

Over the years I’ve needed dad’s help less and less because as I became more experienced as a homeowner, I figured out how to do things myself. My latest project is the bathroom. After a decade and a half, the tool idiot strikes again: An improperly installed vanity and a tile floor that could have been done better by a first semester high school shop student. What was supposed to be a relatively simple weekend paint/redecorate ended up with me completely gutting the entire room.

I was frustrated but not surprised. I long ago acclimated myself to expect these problems and now approach them with a sense of humor. I tell myself it’s just another one of what’s-his-face’s screw ups. The upside is that his screw ups are my homeowner education. But for his hapless incompetence, my skills would have never developed this far. I’ve learned so much in the last fifteen years that now my dad asks for my input on projects he’s working on. One of the greatest signs of respect is when the master defers to the student.

Back in the day, I was told that the guy I bought this place from moved into new construction a few towns over. His house is now at the age where big stuff starts breaking. Assuming he’s still there, I imagine he will revert to his old ways and the cycle of tool idiocy will perpetuate itself.

The old cliché that you learn from your mistakes has a forgotten step brother: You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes. That maxim has never been more evident than within the walls of my own house. I kinda feel sorry for the previous homeowner because he did give it an honest effort, yet all he succeeded in doing was providing the instructional material for my “training”. And for that, I think I owe him some respect and gratitude.

train set

If I Could Live In A Train Set.

By: Chris Warren.

Last Saturday evening I stopped by my brother’s house to see his kids, and as luck would have it, my young nephew was away at a sleepover and my niece was with one of her girlfriends busy doing…whatever junior high age girls do. So I thought to myself, uhhmm, well, I guess I can stay a while and actually spend some time with my brother. What I thought was kind of bummer because I didn’t get to see my niece and nephew turned into a fun and insightful evening playing with a train set.

My brother is big into model trains and has a large O-gauge layout in his basement. So like two little kids we descended the stairs into his electrified rail-realm. All males, and I do mean all of them, no matter how old they get, like to play with toy trains. A guy who does not like toy trains needs psychiatric intervention.

To call it a “toy” is factually accurate but a little misleading. A lot of adults, maybe too many, take the hobby very seriously. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars constructing very realistic looking layouts. My brother is not so much of a purist. His train set is realistic enough, but he does not sweat the details. He’d rather spend time running his trains than fuss over whether the rivets on the locomotive are historically accurate.

He flipped a series of switches, turned a few dials, and his little world came to life. One steam engine chugging the main line, one diesel hauling freight, and a streetcar shuttling back and forth across town. A train set is quite noisy when everything is running, yet the rhythmic sound is alluring and has a soothing quality to it. If that noise came from anything else it would be annoying as hell. But trains have a certain something that calms your nerves.

I was quickly absorbed into the make believe. Job and family stresses, world events, and political vitriol all seem to melt away in train land. It puts one in a much better frame of mind to  face the real world when it’s time to come up from the basement. My brother has a tendency to freak out over any little thing and I think his train set, whether he realizes it or not, is his therapy.

And effective therapy it is! I don’t have my own train set so it was a real treat to run the engines around, work the horns and bells, relishing in what I have to admit is pointless as a practical activity but amazingly beneficial as a visceral escape. There is no bad day that cannot be made better by playing with a train set.

We cracked a few profoundly offensive & tasteless jokes (sorry, mom!), talked about our lives, and discussed ideas for expanding the layout. We would have kept going much longer but for a call from upstairs that dinner was ready. The hour or so we were down there seemed like mere moments. That was probably the longest time I’ve spent alone with my bother in decades.

There are certainly other pastimes that give their practitioners a lifetime of stress relief and fun, yet few hobbies are as universally appealing as train set and have an efficacy equal to or better than antidepressant medication. Both my brother and I were big into trains as kids but along the way to growing up it drifted away from me. I’m glad he stuck with it, for his own benefit and mine. I know I can’t always live in the idyllic world of a train set, but for a while it sure was nice to pretend.

winner 2016

Winners & Losers 2016.

By Chris Warren

Wow, so much happened in 2016! It was like the year that had three years’ worth of stuff happening. There’s a lot of recollections of the year gone by going around the internet, so I thought I’d put out my own list of winners and losers for 2016. In no particular order, here we go. Because this is the Thoughtful, Positive, Relevant  blog, I’ll do the 2016 winner first…

2016 WINNER: Twenty First Summer blogJanuary 1, 2017 is the third anniversary of TFS, and I’m very grateful to all the loyal readers who have pulled me this far. Some of you have been here since the beginning; others jumped on since then. I take all comers. While there have been some minor tweaks in the format and I no longer post every week because of a commitment to writing technical/engineering articles for another website, Twenty First Summer will be around for the foreseeable future. I’m truly flattered that my thoughts mean something to someone, and for me that can’t be anything other than a huge win. Thank you all so very much for being there for the last 156 posts.

2016 WINNER: Social media. While I have a low opinion of social media and have often mocked it on this blog, there is no denying that in 2016 social media asserted itself and for better or worse influenced the world in a way like nothing else did. Not long ago one would need to be a major newspaper mogul or own a broadcast network to speak to millions. Not anymore. Any average schmuck with an internet connection has a megaphone equal to anyone else’s. That’s not always good, but it’s how we roll in the Land of the Free and the Home of The Brave. Social media is the ultimate form of free speech, and freedom is always a winner.

2016 LOSER: The Democratic party. Wow, how can they not be losers? After the Democrats ended up on the wrong end of Presidential election flameout for the ages, they proceeded to blame pretty much everyone and everything except their preordained candidate, Hillary Clinton. In addition to screwing up what should have been an easy ride against a man that many members of his own party threw under the bus as an incompetent, obnoxious boob, during the last eight years Democrats took a net loss of over a thousand federal and state offices and numerous governorships to Republicans. The liberal analyst wizards are certainly free to offer convoluted excuses if that’s what makes them feel good, but there is no talking point logical enough to get around the ugly reality that Democrats go into 2017 with less than they’ve had in decades, and the jaw-dropping path of destruction leads directly back to Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

2016 LOSER: Fans of art/music/entertainment/sports. Every year we lose a few celebrities, but 2016 seems to have been especially harsh. David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Prince, and most recently Carrie Fisher, George Michael, and Debbie Reynolds (in the same week!). And there are many more. It’s regrettable that these legends pass with no up-and-coming generation to replace them. I can’t identify a single entertainer or artist under the age of 35 that is likely to be relevant three or four decades from now. It’s true that all legends start as nobodies, so maybe I’m assuming too much, but I’m not hopeful that the next David Bowie is out there somewhere playing in a bar. I fear we are entering what will be a long era of soulless, overproduced noise, with movies that are more memorable for computer-generated special effects than actual acting talent.

2016 WINNER: Consumers of technology. There’s so much technology available that it’s hard to take it all in. Tablet computers, smart phones, smart watches, the Amazon Echo, Google Home, internet connected lights, appliances, thermostats, and yes, even pets. It seems there isn’t anything that can’t be adapted to technology. Most of these things have been around for a while, but in 2016 they became mainstream as the technology improved and the prices came down. I admit I’ve been sucked into the vortex myself: I have a home automation system, a smartwatch, Apple TV, and a host of other technogoodies. I had my doubts about the “need” for a smartwatch until I got one. Now I’m a true believer. There is some frivolous crap, like the refrigerator with a camera on the inside, presumably so you can check to see if you have pickles without having to open the door and look. Tech for tech’s sake is pointless, but it’s now possible for anyone to afford technology that really works and makes life easy and fun. For us techno geeks, 2016 was an awesome win!

This list could be a lot longer, but these are my top choices for 2016 winner and losers. Every year brings something new. My hope is that we can learn from the good, discard the bad, and all become better for it.

Happy New Year from Twenty First Summer. May your 2017 be a big winner! 

christmas

Christmas 2016.

Author’s note: I’m taking the week off to enjoy Christmas. Here is a favorite reposted article from December 19, 2015. 

By Chris Warren

Christmas means different things to different people. For some, like me, it’s a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. For little kids, it’s a joyful time of toys and presents. For people employed in critical professions, Christmas is another day on the job.

Sadly, for many, the holidays are a very painful reminder of their loneliness and isolation. A battle with addiction. Homelessness. Unemployment. Estrangement from family. Thoughts of suicide.

Christmas is the seriously ill patient, grateful for having made it another year and nervously concerned that it might be their last.

Christmas is the old man sitting alone and forgotten, contemplating the lifetime of bad decisions that brought him to this time and place.

Christmas is the unemployed veteran who gave so much of himself to protect the liberty of others and was rewarded with broken promises.

Christmas is the struggling single mom and her kids who are squeaking by for now but have no idea what life will be like in another month.

Christmas is the oppressed and persecuted all over the world who cannot find even one moment’s peace or the simplest of freedoms.

We are commanded by God to watch over and care for the less fortunate. Non-believers will question and even mock this concept with statements along the lines of “if your god is so powerful and almighty, why does he let people suffer?” God does not want programmed robots working for Him. He gave all of us a free will. Doing good works is our way of showing others our love for Him, but He rigged it so we could decide for ourselves if we were going to answer the call. When the needs of the hungry and the poor and the sick go unaddressed, it’s not because God “let” it happen. It’s because we mortal sinners let it happen.

Yet all is not dreary and bleak. Christ himself  taught that there is always hope for those who believe. Christmas exists for the sole purpose of letting everyone know that through Him is the path to a better place, even if that “better place” is not on this physical Earth.

For sure, Christmas is a celebration and there is nothing wrong with partaking in parties and food and gifts, unless the only reason you’re into the holiday is because of parties and food and gifts. When the egg nog wears off and the sales are over and the decorations are put away, what, or who, do you truly care about? Are you hearing the message, or was it just a party?

Christmas is December 25. And January 17. And March 5. And July. 10. And October 8. And so on. You get the idea. God is real. Are you?

Merry Christmas and God Bless from Twenty First Summer. 

hero

The Value Of A Hero.

With the political season nearing its denouement, there is a lot of hero worship from every campaign. The military and police are oft cited examples, and the hero label has been applied to everyone from generals to pizza delivery guys. It seems like the definition of hero can be stretched to include almost anyone, and that is quite bothersome.

What I’m left wondering is, what exactly is a hero anymore? There are obvious examples that are easy to quantify, such as the guy who risks his own safety to rescue someone from a car sinking in water, or a Congressional Medal Of Honor winner. But after that it’s not so clear cut.

Is someone a hero simply by being in a certain group, such as firefighters and the military? Or do they actually have to do something heroic? Suppose an ordinary guy who otherwise has never shown any proclivity for acts of bravery is suddenly thrust into a situation…such as child trapped in a burning building. If he places himself in great peril to rescue the child, is he a hero more, less, or equal to the retired Army sergeant who spent his entire career at a desk job and never did anything more hazardous than minimum required basic training?

By virtue of their enlistment, the military people have professed a willingness to place themselves in danger on behalf of others. The same could be said of police officers and firefighters. This willingness is not mere words. It is  verified by lengthy, difficult training intended in part to weed out the pretenders from those who really mean it. Is that enough to satisfy the nebulous “do something” requirement?

Whether or not they have ever actually done anything dangerously heroic is beside the point. Raising their hands and volunteering to imperil themselves in the service of complete strangers must count for something, and in my mind it makes them a hero on some level even if they are never called to perform these duties.

That brings us to the less obvious. Teachers, clergy, medical people, and a raft of others are often lifted to hero status. The missions they undertake are unarguably difficult, noble, and often done at great personal sacrifice. But here we go again…does mere inclusion in one of these respected groups by default make them a hero?

We admire teachers and clergy and the rest…I get it. Yet I cannot make an easy connection between someone who does something honorable and selfless, but not particularly risky, and someone who actually does take a big risk or accepts the potential of danger.

The problem I have with the modern hero is that, consistent with society’s attitude of “everyone gets a trophy,” and “let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings,” the concept of a hero has been diluted down to include pretty much everyone. And if everyone is a hero, then being a one isn’t such a big deal. Furthermore, the real heroes, those who clearly earned it, are having their rightful honor debased.

I do not consider myself a hero, but I’m sure if I was a lot more full of myself I could find a circuitous way to claim the title. Meh. I’ll watch with a little sadness while so many others abuse the term. When it’s all over, I’ll give up my spot on the pedestal for someone who really deserves it.

work shoes

The Story In A Workingman’s Shoes.

By Chris Warren.

I went out yesterday and bought a new pair of work shoes. I know it’s not exactly a profound life event, but when I looked at my old shoes it struck me that every beat up, worn out pair has a story to tell about a Workingman.

Most people have several pairs of shoes for everyday use, but the Workingman, a guy who doesn’t wear a fine suit, usually has only one pair. Those old shoes carried me through every moment of my career for several years. I wear them more than any other single article of clothing I own.

The photo above shows two pairs of my work shoes. Both are the exact same make, model, and size. One pair is three years old and well past the end of its useful life; the other is brand new, never worn. When compared side by side, it’s a bit startling to see what three years of honest hard work will do to a pair of shoes.

Those shoes were a silent witness to many great things that happened to me, and a few not so great things. They were there when the boss dressed me down over a mistake I made; they were also there when the same boss gave me a fat bonus and told me what a great employee I was. They’ve been to funerals and retirement parties. They’ve shoveled snow and walked through 100 degree heat.

Every scuff and crack and stain and scrape on those old shoes has a story behind it. Of course, I don’t remember the details of how and when every blemish occurred, but collectively they are the testimony of a guy who clearly does not spend much time sitting around.

Workingmen are not a complicated lot, which, by the way, should not be interpreted as being uneducated or simple-minded. Their skills are technical and complex and can take years, even decades, to master. The Workingman’s job requires advanced math and analytical abilities; many of the people in work shoes and hard hats hold college degrees and/or have completed vocational training that essentially equals or exceeds a college degree. They show up every day with lunchbox in hand and a can-do spirit in their heart and do what is needed to keep our modern world seamlessly running.

Building buildings, lighting up the cities, keeping cellphones on line, toilets flushing, and trucks and trains and airplanes moving are all part of the countless behind the scenes labors that no one sees but everyone would definitely notice if they did not get done correctly and on time. These are not skills any unmotivated dropout can learn. Workingmen are diverse in their advanced expertise but they have one thing in common: Their shoes do not stay pristine and new for very long.

I don’t know why, but there is something about getting a new pair of work shoes that boosts my mood. For that first few days, before they are fully broken in and start showing obvious signs of wear, I put my work shoes on in the morning and leave the house feeling like it’s going to be a good day. Like a blank sheet of paper they too will collect the story of my daily life and someday will be worn and spent.

That is where the Workingman is different from his shoes: The Workingman is never spent. He may return home tired at the end of each shift and dream of a well earned retirement, but the next morning he will put on the same pair of shoes and go out and make the world happen…again. During the course of his day his shoes will collect a few more scrapes and scuffs, each of which is a testimony to honest hard work. Show me a beat up old pair of work shoes, and I’ll show you a dignified Workingman who never failed to carry the pride of his skill and labor upon them.

mother teresa 2

Mother Teresa, For The Ages

By: Chris Warren.

I had started an article about Mother Teresa over a year ago, then changed my plans and never finished it. Now that Mother Theresa is officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta, it’s a good time to finish the story, even though the story of Mother Teresa will never end, nor should it.

Mother Teresa’s path to greatness started the same way as most great people: She wasn’t looking for greatness, she was just looking to make a difference. After starting the Missionaries of Charity religious order in 1950, Mother Teresa set out on a quiet mission to serve the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the unseen, the unwanted, the untouchables.

Earning a Nobel Peace Prize, several honorary doctorate degrees, dozens of other awards and honors, being celebrated by Popes and Presidents, and even having an airport named after her was never part of the plan. Through it all, this woman of God kept plugging along and never diverted from her calling.

What impresses me most about Mother Teresa is her sense of humanity. Not only in her public service to others, but also her private personal struggles, admissions of doubt in her own faith, and her open acknowledgement that she was really just a regular person, a sinner in need of God’s salvation and no better or more deserving than all the rest of us.

It’s easy to see someone like her as some perfect being who operates on a level the rest of us will never realize. Yet, Mother Teresa herself would be the first person to deny having a special pipeline to holiness. She did not see herself as being much different than those she served.

If we dig into the biographies of figures who changed the world by peacefully serving others we find people who were, well, just people. They had faults. They did things they later regretted. They sometimes hurt others and were hurt by others. At their roots they were ordinary folk who somehow found a way to rise up and do big things in spite of their personal shortcomings. Their greatness was not that they were flawless, because they weren’t, and they knew it. Their greatness came from their faith that they could overcome both internal and external obstacles and live what they believed.

These “star throwers” know they are never going to save everyone, but that’s not the point. It did not stop Mother Teresa because trying to save everyone and coming up short is more virtuous than using the impossibility of the task as an excuse not to try at all. Her effort had the added benefit of being an example to others. Mother Teresa never knew how many others saw her good works and were inspired to go out and do something good themselves.

mother teresa 1

Pope Francis recently Tweeted, “To offer today’s world the witness of mercy is a task from which none of us can feel exempted.” This serendipitous statement is everything Mother Teresa lived for. Mother Teresa does not live on in the form of anything she directly did to help others, although those contributions are indeed memorable. Her gift to the world, and what she would want as her legacy, was her role as a guiding light for the rest of us to join her. As Pope Francis teaches, none of us are exempted.

No one ever received God’s grace, much less became a Saint, by watching others perform acts of mercy. To that end, the world’s adulation of Mother Teresa does not mean much if the world will not also walk a path of selfless service. Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s message for the ages is that she did not want to be admired; she wanted to be emulated.

Author’s Note: Please also see my related article, Strong Enough To Throw A Star.

 

block party

Vote For The Block Party!

By: Chris Warren

The news media is like air pollution: It’s never good and no one likes it, but no one can really avoid it, either. The election being just three months away makes things especially dicey. There are lot of high energy disagreements, and the media is happy to feed the fire. Getting away from from the stank is an invigorating breath of fresh air. I found that escape in the most unlikely of places: A big city block party.

I was invited to a gathering in Chicago and it happened to be on one of the few weekends I was not already overbooked. I’m not a city boy, so it sounded like a fun excuse to take a road trip and do something different. I didn’t know it was going to be a block party. I was expecting the average backyard BBQ sort of deal.

A block party is the ultimate community participation event. The whole deal can fall apart if even one homeowner objects. The fact that block parties exist at all offers hope that people can still get along. In a time when there is acrimony everywhere we go, amplified by the media, a group of people getting along and talking about pretty much everything except politics made me think I accidentally landed on another planet.

The weather was stunning. Little kids played in a bouncy house placed in the street while the bigger kids threw buckets of water at each other. The adults sipped beer and talked about our jobs, our kids, our lives, our retirement plans. It was surprising how much we had in common. Music and the smell of sausage and burgers on the grill whiffed through the air. These people really felt like my neighbors even though I didn’t live on that block and had not known any of them until that day.

For three hours I did not hear any political candidate’s name even mentioned, which is quite remarkable in a city where politics famously, or perhaps infamously, creeps into every aspect of daily life. The closest thing to an argument I heard was a tit-for-tat about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox. There is something about setting up beer coolers and BBQ grills in the middle of the street that makes everyone more civil. It was as if the the block party was relaxing force floating over the neighborhood. Hardly anyone even looked at their phones, including the teenagers.

I am proposing that a National Block Party Day be declared. It will be a regular guy’s version of a political convention, without the politics. On NBPD, everyone from coast to coast shuts down their neighborhood and turns their street into an open air party room. The only rule is that you have to talk to people you do not know very well and keep it light. No major issues facing society will be solved and no grand policies will be presented, but it will put a human face on those issues and allow us to see there are more similarities than differences between us.

People hate on others in part because the media encourages it, and also because no one hangs out in person anymore. The disagreements will still be there when people put down the keyboards and the cellphones and meet up face to face, but a conversation about what we have in common is more productive than sniping on each other over what we do not. For a few hours on a beautiful weekend we were not Democrats, and we were not Republicans. All of us were members of the Block Party.

gratitude

Poisoning Gratitude With Pride.

Gratitude is an abused sentiment. Every day we are given reasons to be grateful but we don’t always see it, or it is ruined it with self pride. An ungrateful person is usually someone who has been given so many reasons to show gratitude that they become desensitized to the blessings all around them.

Like the little kid who gets such a huge pile of toys for Christmas every year that he can’t appreciate all of them, ungrateful people are always the ones who have the most to be grateful for. They go to a job that they may not like, blind to the fact that there are millions who don’t have a job. They live in a house that may be too small or not in the ideal neighborhood, and don’t notice the homeless in their own town. They have a refrigerator full of food and don’t hear the cries of the hungry. They may be fabulously successful and have everything they ever wished for, and are ungracious about it.

Gratitude is easy to blow off when times are good. Being given a jacket means more to the man who has none than it does to the man with a closet full of jackets. It should not be that way, nor should we devalue gratitude when it is offered to us.

There is a YouTube video of a hidden camera social experiment where a man pretending to be a homeless bum in ratty clothes went around offering money to random well-dressed people on the street, sort of like a “reverse beggar”. Only a few showed gratitude but did not accept the money. Most derided him and were offended that anyone would presume that they needed money in the first place. The most disturbing scene was when he offered cash to a guy in an expensive suit stepping out of a high end luxury car. The would-be beneficiary harshly berated the “homeless” donor and pointed out using numerous expletives that he was a man of great means.

It is a difficult video to watch, but it sadly illustrates that simply being nice to others does not in and of itself constitute a generous heart. The video points out, correctly, that many people are generous not out of love for their fellow man, but to burnish their own self importance. Outwardly generous but inwardly selfish people use charity as way to exert their perceived superiority over others. They are incapable of showing gratitude but expect others to show it to them. Just as it is wrong not to show gratitude for those who are kind to us, it is also wrong to not accept it when we are on the receiving end.

All major religions including Christianity believe in some form of karma. They may have different names and definitions for it, but they all support the concept that our actions, both good and bad, will come back to us in one form or another, possibly not in this lifetime. Christianity openly teaches that people who go around bragging about their good deeds perhaps unknowingly accept that feeling big and important in the short term is the only reward they will get…they have essentially cancelled out their own good karma. The humble gratitude of those we are generous to along with the promise of some in-kind compensation later (karma) is supposed to be the reward of good works. Pride ruins that cycle.

If you look around social media, you’ll get the impression that doing good deeds for others is just another excuse to say, “Look at me! Wonderful, incredible, awesome me!!” It’s nice that they are being nice, but when the real end game is self-indulgence, they ruin what should be a beautiful and understated transaction.

It’s unfortunate that gratitude is often only offered after the positive conclusion of a difficult problem because it is something that we should give every day, just for being alive. And it is even more unfortunate that accepting gratitude is misused as a vehicle to prop up one’s delicate, all-important self esteem. Gratitude is a catharsis, a celebration of the heart that is worthwhile all the time under all conditions but requires sincerity to be effective. Gratitude in its true form is giving back the love others give to you, without conditions or ulterior motives. Gratitude is a two way street that should always be offered generously and accepted with a glad spirit.