'That's gratitude for you!'

Sententia Cotidiana XXII

So squawks the hawk on Mary Poppins’ umbrella at the end of the film. But on a more serious note, gratitude is a very important social value. Today’s post was initially inspired by the following post on LinkedIn:


Rouble Nagi is right. Gratitude is not only important, but powerful. It hurts when a good turn is not acknowledged. Read on the surface, this might seem a little petty. ‘So, they forgot to say thank you.’

But gratitude is not just about good manners; it represents something far stronger about social bonds and unity within a society. A writer who knew this very well was Polybius, the Greek historian. Although a society in its infancy would largely have come together for protection under the leadership of a strong leader individuals, eventually morality is born from human reason as follows:

Now, whenever any one of these children who have been brought up, when arrived at

maturity, neither shows gratitude nor and offers nor sense of reciprocity to those by

whom he was nurtured, but on the contrary undertakes to bad mouth them and treat t

them badly, it is plain that he will probably offend and annoy his associates, and have

seen the care and trouble bestowed by the parents on the nurture and bringing up of their

children. For seeing that men differ from the other animals in being the only creatures

possessed of reasoning powers, it is clear that such a difference of conduct is not likely to

escape their observation; but that they will remark it when it occurs, and express their

displeasure on the spot: because they will have an eye to the future, and will reason on

the likelihood of the same occurring to each of themselves. Again, if a man has been

rescued or helped in an hour of danger, and, instead of showing gratitude to his preserver,

seeks to do him harm, it is clearly probable that the rest will be displeased and offended

with him, when they know it: sympathising with their neighbour and imagining

themselves in his case. Hence arises a notion in every breast of the meaning and theory

of duty, which is in fact the beginning and end of justice. Similarly, again, when any one

man stands out as the champion of all in a time of danger, and braves with firm courage

the onslaught of the most powerful wild beasts, it is probable that such a man would

meet with marks of favour and pre-eminence from the common people; while he who

acted in a contrary way would fall under their contempt and dislike."

Protection, rearing, nurture, benefaction should all receive gratitude. When people observe those who fall short in this quality, they are angry and fear experiencing this themselves. When those who value gratitude cooperate, it flourishes as a kind of moral social glue.

Polybius is a highly insightful author, and he is right about ingratitude. Cooperation and mutual assistance lie behind society’s very formation; recognition of mutual need and mutual responsibility are society’s very purpose. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of the importance of social relations and our very humanity. Gratitude preserves a sense of duty. When that fails, the cooperative dynamics of society also fail.

I return now to Rouble Nagi’s comment about how, ‘”Gratitude” stands above everything else’. Polybius would have agreed with her. So do I. Without gratitude, we lose sight of our need for each other and society itself.

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