Chapter 14 - If You Do This, You Will Never Worry About Ingratitude

23 April 2022

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I recently met a business man in Texas who was burned up with indignation. I was
warned that he would tell me about it within fifteen minutes after I met him. He did.
The incident he was angry about had occurred eleven months previously, but he was still
burned up about it. He couldn't speak of anything else. He had given his thirty-four
employees ten thousand dollars in Christmas bonuses-approximately three hundred
dollars each-and no one had thanked him. "I am sorry," he complained bitterly, "that I
ever gave them a penny!"
"An angry man," said Confucius, "is always full of poison." This man was so full of poison
that I honestly pitied him. He was about sixty years old. Now, life-insurance companies
figure that, on the average, we will live slightly more than two-thirds of the difference
between our present age and eighty. So this man-if he was lucky-probably had about
fourteen or fifteen years to live. Yet he had already wasted almost one of his few
remaining years by his bitterness and resentment over an event that was past and gone.
I pitied him.
Instead of wallowing in resentment and self-pity, he might have asked himself why he
didn't get any appreciation. Maybe he had underpaid and overworked his employees.
Maybe they considered a Christmas bonus not a gift, but something they had earned.
Maybe he was so critical and unapproachable that no one dared or cared to thank him.
Maybe they felt he gave the bonus because most of the profits were going for taxes,
On the other hand, maybe the employees were selfish, mean, and ill-mannered. Maybe
this. Maybe that. I don't know any more about it than you do. But I do know what Dr.
Samuel Johnson said: "Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among
gross people."
Here is the point I am trying to make: this man made the human and distressing mistake
of expecting gratitude. He just didn't know human nature.
If you saved a man's life, would you expect him to be grateful? You might-but Samuel
Leibowitz, who was a famous criminal lawyer before he became a judge, saved seventyeight men from going to the electric chair! How many of these men, do you suppose,
stopped to thank Samuel Leibowitz, or ever took the trouble to send him a Christmas
card? How many? Guess. ... That's right-none.
Christ healed ten lepers in one afternoon-but how many of those lepers even stopped to
thank Him? Only one. Look it up in Saint Luke. When Christ turned around to His
disciples and asked: "Where are the other nine?" they had all run away. Disappeared
without thanks! Let me ask you a question: Why should you and I-or this business man in
Texas-expect more thanks for our small favours than was given Jesus Christ?
And when it comes to money matters! Well, that is even more hopeless. Charles Schwab
told me that he had once saved a bank cashier who had speculated in the stock market
with funds belonging to the bank. Schwab put up the money to save this man from going
to the penitentiary. Was the cashier grateful? Oh, yes, for a little while. Then he turned
against Schwab and reviled him and denounced him-the very man who had kept him out
of jail!
If you gave one of your relatives a million dollars, would you expect him to be grateful?
Andrew Carnegie did just that. But if Andrew Carnegie had come back from the grave a
little while later, he would have been shocked to find this relative cursing him! Why?
Because Old Andy had left 365 million dollars to public charities-and had "cut him off
with one measly million," as he put it.
That's how it goes. Human nature has always been human nature-and it probably won't
change in your lifetime. So why not accept it? Why not be as realistic about it as was old
Marcus Aurelius, one of the wisest men who ever ruled the Roman Empire. He wrote in
his diary one day: "I am going to meet people today who talk too much-people who are
selfish, egotistical, ungrateful. But I won't be surprised or disturbed, for I couldn't
imagine a world without such people." That makes sense, doesn't it? If you and I go
around grumbling about ingratitude, who is to blame? Is it human nature-or is it our
ignorance of human nature? Let's not expect gratitude. Then, if we get some
occasionally, it will come as a delightful surprise. If we don't get it, we won't be
Here is the first point I am trying to make in this chapter: It is natural for people to
forget to be grateful; so, if we go around expecting gratitude, we are headed straight
for a lot of heartaches.
I know a woman in New York who is always complaining because she is lonely. Not one
of her relatives wants to go near her-and no wonder. If you visit her, she will tell you for
hours what she did for her nieces when they were children: she nursed them through
the measles and the mumps and the whooping-cough; she boarded them for years; she
helped to send one of them through business school, and she made a home for the other
until she got married.
Do the nieces come to see her? Oh, yes, now and then, out of a spirit of duty. But they
dread these visits. They know they will have to sit and listen for hours to half-veiled
reproaches. They will be treated to an endless litany of bitter complaints and self-
pitying sighs. And when this woman can no longer bludgeon, browbeat, or bully her
nieces into coming to see her, she has one of her "spells". She develops a heart attack.
Is the heart attack real? Oh, yes. The doctors say she has "a nervous heart", suffers from
palpitations. But the doctors also say they can do nothing for her-her trouble is
What this woman really wants is love and attention. But she calls it "gratitude". And she
will never get gratitude or love, because she demands it. She thinks it's her due.
There are thousands of women like her, women who are ill from "ingratitude",
loneliness, and neglect. They long to be loved; but the only way in this world that they
can ever hope to be loved is to stop asking for it and to start pouring out love without
hope of return.
Does that sound like sheer, impractical, visionary idealism? It isn't. It is just horse sense.
It is a good way for you and me to find the happiness we long for. I know. I have seen it
happen right in my own family. My own mother and father gave for the joy of helping
others. We were poor-always overwhelmed by debts. Yet, poor as we were, my father
and mother always managed to send money every year to an orphans' home-the
Christian Home in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Mother and Father never visited that home.
Probably no one thanked them for their gifts-except by letter-but they were richly
repaid, for they had the joy of helping little children-without wishing for or expecting
any gratitude in return.
After I left home, I would always send Father and Mother a cheque at Christmas and
urge them to indulge in a few luxuries for themselves. But they rarely did. When I came
home a few days before Christmas, Father would tell me of the coal and groceries they
had bought for some "widder woman" in town who had a lot of children and no money to
buy food and fuel. What joy they got out of these gifts-the joy of giving without
accepting anything whatever in return!
I believe my father would almost have qualified for Aristotle's description of the ideal
man-the man most worthy of being happy. "The ideal man," said Aristotle, "takes joy in
doing favours for others; but he feels ashamed to have others do favours for him. For it
is a mark of superiority to confer a kindness; but it is a mark of inferiority to receive it."
Here is the second point I am trying to make in this chapter: If we want to find
happiness, let's stop thinking about gratitude or ingratitude and give for the inner joy of
Parents have been tearing their hair about the ingratitude of children for ten thousand
years. Even Shakespeare's King Lear cried out: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
to have a thankless child!"
But why should children be thankful-unless we train them to be? Ingratitude is naturallike weeds. Gratitude is like a rose. It has to be fed and watered and cultivated and
loved and protected.
If our children are ungrateful, who is to blame? Maybe we are. If we have never taught
them to express gratitude to others, how can we expect them to be grateful to us?
I know a man in Chicago who has cause to complain of the ingratitude of his stepsons.
He slaved in a box factory, seldom earning more than forty dollars a week. He married a
widow, and she persuaded him to borrow money and send her two grown sons to
college. Out of his salary of forty dollars a week, he had to pay for food, rent, fuel,
clothes, and also for the payments on his notes. He did this for four years, working like
a coolie, and never complaining.
Did he get any thanks? No; his wife took it all for granted- and so did her sons. They
never imagined that they owed their stepfather anything-not even thanks!
Who was to blame? The boys? Yes; but the mother was even more to blame. She thought
it was a shame to burden their young lives with "a sense of obligation". She didn't want
her sons to "start out under debt". So she never dreamed of saying: "What a prince your
stepfather is to help you through college!" Instead, she took the attitude: "Oh, that's the
least he can do."
She thought she was sparing her sons, but in reality, she was sending them out into life
with the dangerous idea that the world owed them a living. And it was a dangerous
idea- for one of those sons tried to "borrow" from an employer, and ended up in jail!
We must remember that our children are very much what we make them. For example,
my mother's sister-Viola Alexander, of 144 West Minnehala Parkway, Minneapolis -is a
shining example of a woman who has never had cause to complain about the
"ingratitude" of children. When I was a boy, Aunt Viola took her own mother into her
home to love and take care of; and she did the same thing for her husband's mother. I
can still close my eyes and see those two old ladies sitting before the fire in Aunt Viola's
farmhouse. Were they any "trouble" to Aunt Viola? Oh, often, I suppose. But you would
never have guessed it from her attitude. She loved those old ladies-so she pampered
them, and spoiled them, and made them feel at home. In addition, Aunt Viola had six
children of her own; but it never occurred to her that she was doing anything especially
noble, or deserved any halos for taking these old ladies into her home. To her, it was
the natural thing, the right thing, the thing she wanted to do.
Where is Aunt Viola today? Well, she has now been a widow for twenty-odd years, and
she has five grown-up children- five separate households-all clamouring to share her,
and to have her come and live in their homes! Her children adore her; they never get
enough of her. Out of "gratitude"? Nonsense! It is love-sheer love. Those children
breathed in warmth and radiant human-kindness all during their childhoods. Is it any
wonder that, now that the situation is reversed, they give back love?
So let us remember that to raise grateful children, we have to be grateful. Let us
remember "little pitchers have big ears"-and watch what we say. To illustrate-the next
time we are tempted to belittle someone's kindness in the presence of our children, let's
stop. Let's never say: "Look at these dishcloths Cousin Sue sent for Christmas. She knit
them herself. They didn't cost her a cent!" The remark may seem trivial to us-but the
children are listening. So, instead, we had better say: "Look at the hours Cousin Sue
spent making these for Christmas! Isn't she nice? Let's write her a thank-you note right
now." And our children may unconsciously absorb the habit of praise and appreciation.
To avoid resentment and worry over ingratitude, here is Rule 3:
A. Instead of worrying about ingratitude, let's expect it. Let's remember that Jesus
healed ten lepers in one day-and only one thanked Him. Why should we expect more
gratitude than Jesus got?
B. Let's remember that the only way to find happiness is not to expect gratitude, but to
give for the joy of giving.
C. Let's remember that gratitude is a "cultivated" trait; so if we want our children to be
grateful, we must train them to be grateful.  

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