John the Baptist preaching
Does one do good to avoid punishment or does one do it from the fullness of the heart of love? St. Paul’s message seemed to be that we do good not to earn favour but to express our gratitude, i.e. we are loved by God and, knowing that love, makes us want to be loving to others. The message from the old-style prophets, here, in the person of John Baptist, is rather that we are all wicked and the only way to avoid damnation is to stop being wicked and do good instead. This is the style of motivation known as “way from negative”, its opposite is being motivated by the desire ‘towards positive’. While we may agree that there is no such thing as genuine altruism there are different starting points, subtle but significant. You do something good and a reward follows, you’d have done the good deed anyway, the reward feels like a bonus; doing something good when you know you are going to get something out of it is not quite the same.
This kind of attitude is noticeable in a good deal of secular teaching these days, especially around the area of gratitude. Gratitude is seen to be a primary source of well-being, and it is admirable that, along with generosity, it is being so extensively marketed. Frequently one hears how good a thing it is to be grateful; how The Universe responds to our attitude of thankfulness for all that we have (however great or small). The response of The Universe to this state of being is to give us more for which to be grateful. This may be true, but the same problem arises, being grateful because it is a proven way to receive abundance is not the same thing as giving thanks from an overflowing heart.
You may say I am splitting hairs, and maybe I am, coming out of a period of unprecedented selfishness to have people doing good, generous acts, even if they do have a background agenda has got to be an improvement. And of course, it is catching and it is addictive. The chemicals that race through the body when we are kind are those lovely feel-good chemicals, and the more of them we have the more we desire them. To begin and end each day feeling grateful has got to be good for us, for our friends and relations and for the planet, whether or not we are certain of an even more abundant tomorrow.
Preparing for Christmas is a great time to be thinking about gratitude. What a super way to think about the gifts we want or need to give; to start from “How can I express how glad I am that you are in my life?” might be a very different way to go from “What on earth can I get….”
Being grateful for those people you ’have to’ see at Christmas may be a hard call but the festivities will go better if you remember beforehand the good bits in the past that bonded you to the relations that now bore you to sobs, or whatever your particular grouse is. Do something different, that is how change happens; not better, not worse, just different.
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