Robert Louis Stevenson once said “To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life”. For many people the first part of his statement “to be what we are” is deceptively easy. I say deceptively because many of us do not know who we really are. Note that Stevenson did NOT say “be what you think you are”. Who we are and who we think we are often two very different things. Additionally, to be what we are capable of becoming is also a challenge as many of us can hardly glimpse even a small spec of what our true potential looks like. So I ask you these two life defining questions: First, how do we discover our true worth? And second, how do we discover our full potential? These two questions are difficult to address in a blog that of necessity needs to be brief in size, so I will break this subject down into two separate blogs and answer each question separately.
Discovering our true worth:
In the 1940’s a company in America introduced to our shops Ready Made Cake Mix. All you had to do was add water, mix and put in it in the oven. Brilliant? Actually no! It turned out that first time round people didn’t like the taste. But the great minds behind this new product believed that it did taste great and that their customers were telling them something else. So, they took out of their ingredients the milk and the eggs and then told their customers “just add milk, eggs and water, then mix and put in the oven.” It turned out to be a huge success. Yet – it tasted the same! The end result had exactly the same ingredients. Why did they like it more? Because customers could now say “they made the cake”. They invested in it. The great minds behind this new product understood that the more we sacrifice for something the more we value it. In fact, since then science has proved this over and over. However, in terms of “self” it can sometimes be hard to see what sacrifices have been made for us or by us. There is a simple attribute that helps us to see these sacrifices that make us incredibly valuable and of immeasurable worth. It is the attribute of gratitude.
In 1944 Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were arrested for hiding Jews in their home in the Netherlands. For their crime they were taken to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. As you might imagine, their experience in such a prison was horrific and continually life threatening. On one occasion Betsie was praying and expressing thanks for everything. Included in her prayer was “thank you for the fleas!” Her sister Corrie was astounded by such comments and afterwards argued such a point was ridiculous. Betsie explained that we should be thankful for everything, not just the pleasant things. Under the circumstances you can only imagine what Betsie was saying would be most difficult to accept. Her point proved to be true however, when the two sisters later discovered that guards had refused to enter their barracks because they were flea infested. The distance this created between the prisoners and the guards proved to be life saving and significantly improved their quality of life whilst in the camp. Turns out “thank you for the fleas” made sense!
This point reminds me of a poem I heard just this past weekend by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr. called ‘The Oak Tree.’
A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark
But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?
The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway
But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me
Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew.
In my last blog I wrote paradoxically that pain was an important ingredient for our happiness. Today my message is that total gratitude reveals our individual worth. But of total necessity, gratitude must include appreciation for the hard stuff. If I could put this in a mathematical formula it would look like this:
Sacrifice* + Total Gratitude = Value
*Sacrifice is not simply what others do for you, but also what you are called to endure or pass through for yourself or others.
In conclusion to this discussion, we learn that when we are truly grateful, the feelings induced by such positive emotion lead us to act better, to become more, to lift others, to love more. This creates a virtuous circle of ever increasing joy where value is added to ourselves, others and the world. Herein lies the secret: Gratitude therefore is not just a revealer of value – it is a multiplier!