It’s a good time of year to reflect on gratitude. The kids are back in school, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and in our part of the Northern Hemisphere, seasonal change can no longer credibly be denied. It was a great summer, and it is a lovely fall. It also feels like time to get some serious work done.
As part of that work, I want to learn more about gratitude. I already feel pretty grateful, much of the time. I understand on a personal level how a conscious sense of gratitude tends to banish or blunt many less attractive attitudes. For example, it is hard to feel grateful and bitter or resentful at the same time. For this reason and others, gratitude plays an important role in 12 Step and other spiritually-based programs for recovery from addiction.
On that basis, I wonder how gratitude can help us to be more effective ethical leaders. What capacities can we develop by cultivating or acting from gratitude? What else can we learn? At this point, I have many more questions than answers. This blog post is a starting point and an invitation to begin a conversation.
Most of my work involves helping teams, groups, and individuals to develop as ethical leaders. Our clients, partners and colleagues come from multiple cultures, and hold a wide range of spiritual beliefs and commitments. Our work must make connections across these diverse groups, and must be useful to people of many (and of no religious) faiths. For most topics, that rarely proves difficult. For some of the deeper aspects of our work, I am always seeking frameworks and concepts that we can use to explore the spiritual dimension of our humanity that are relevant for all, or nearly all, the people we serve. I wonder whether gratitude, in some form or another, might in fact offer us spiritual common ground.
In his book The Right and the Good, Scottish philosopher Sir William David Ross (1877-1971) articulated a straightforward and useful ethical framework that includes 8 duties. Most are fairly predictable, such as fidelity (promise-keeping), reparation (remedy the harm you do), etc. More curious, I think, is his inclusion of gratitude as one proposed moral duties. In general, he argued, we have a moral obligation to feel grateful for that which is given to us, and to act in accordance with that sentiment. It’s hard to argue that gratitude isn’t a good thing, but how does it function as a presumptive moral duty? It has been decades since I first read the book, so one item on my own agenda is to return to that text.
I’m also collecting stories of gratitude, and watching what happens in groups where we share those stories. Already I see people opening up and having better conversations about how they can help others. In a couple of instances, people who seemed quite stuck in one way of thinking were able to see things from different perspectives as they reflected on the nature and origins of their own gifts.
Perhaps reflection on gratitude can help us to connect with and appreciate others, and to bring to bear our own leadership capacities in service to others. I don’t yet know how this will work, but I am confident that our readers will have something to say about it. Please add your comments below, or contact us to continue the conversation offline if you prefer.