So...I wrote this post a couple weeks ago and have been arguing back and forth with myself whether or not to ever post it. (This is Spencer writing, not Alisha.) Ultimately, I have decided that it could potentially spark introspection, so I might as well post it. So here it is. Or rather, here is about 60% of what I originally wrote; I have pruned it down to make it a relatively reasonable length for a blog.
Over the past couple weeks, I have been thinking quite a bit about gratitude. This post is primarily a compilation of the various trains of thought I have entertained on the bus to work over the past while, and is not intended to be a well polished treatise on the subject. Rather, it is potential food for thought provided by my thoughts.
My thoughts on gratitude stemmed from the Chinese Flagship program. For those who don't know, we're in China through this program. The stated purpose of Flagship is to "develop global professionals." Essentially, the goal is to train you to do what you do (professionally, or with regard to your primary academic interest) at a professional level in Chinese.
For the last long while, my attitude towards and opinion of the Flagship program has been far from complimentary. I felt that Flagship was poorly organized, poorly run, poorly coordinated, and quite frankly a waste of my time. By this past December I was way beyond simply burned out and found myself loathing nearly everything about Flagship, and everything they tried to make me do. I just wanted to graduate and get on with life as quickly as possible, leaving Flagship very far behind me.
One day on my way to work (during the first week of my internship), I realized that the Chinese Flagship program has delivered exactly what they promised. I am working as a production engineer at a chemical manufacturing plant in Nanjing China, functioning almost exclusively in Chinese. I understand the technical jargon, contribute to discussions, and am limited only by my relative lack of professional technical experience, not my linguistic capabilities. Before I started the Flagship program, I would have been utterly incapable of functioning at this level. My reaction to realizing that flagship had delivered as advertized ashamed me. I was not happy. I was not pleased. I did not feel vindicated. I felt a little sad and a little frustrated. I had come to hate the Flagship program, and did not want to give it the credit I suddenly realized it was due. Up to that point, I felt that anything I had learned had been in spite of flagship, not because of it. Most of the classes felt like a complete and total waste of time; how could they have actually been of any real benefit?
Shortly thereafter, Alisha and I had a discussion about gratitude, after which I pondered why it was that I was not grateful for the Chinese Flagship program. One of my conclusions is that it did not live up to my expectations. I expected flagship to stretch me. I expected to feel challenged. I expected to throw my self into the work the way I love to do. But none of that happened. Not a single flagship class felt difficult. The only real challenge was putting up with all the garbage they required and not losing my cool when they failed to clarify expectations. Eventually, I didn't respect the program enough to put any work in whatsoever. (My goal for my two final papers and presentations this past semester: to complete them and get an A without one shred of actual research. Which I did.) In short, I expected this federal program to be better catered to my individual needs. I felt that I deserved that because I was giving up two precious years of my time to do their silly little program.
Forget the fact that the Flagship program has a mission beyond me. Forget the fact that I was ultimately unwilling to put in the work to maximize my benefit from the program. Forget the fact that they gave me $15,000 to move to China for a year, sponsored my visa and enrollment at a top 5 Chinese university, and facilitated an internship with the company of my choice. I deserved better. My needs--as perceived by me of course--were far more important than anything they wanted or arranged. In other words, I felt entitled to what I thought I wanted, and was ungrateful for all that I had received because I felt I deserved all that and more.
In all reality, what have any of us done to "deserve" where we are in life today? The fact that you're reading this blog means that you have access to the internet. That fact alone means that you are more privileged that two thirds of the world population. (And that doesn't include the 420 million Chinese people who can't access this website due to government restrictions.) Does that make us inherently better than those who don't have such privilege? Have we of ourselves done anything beyond having been born in America to earn entitlement to this blog? Not really. Now, please note that I am in no way attempting to belittle the efforts of those who established and protected these liberties for us, nor do I wish to diminish the fundamental importance of hard work and diligence to further oneself and lay a foundation for posterity. My point boils down to the scripture which asks "are we not all beggars?" (Mosiah 4:19)
Each of us has been blessed with a unique background and varying arrays of personal talents and gifts. I believe that we are all children of a loving God--a loving Heavenly Father who loves us, knows us, and wants us to be happy. As such, whatever privilege we have is a blessing from Him. I am not better than others because I am intellectually and academically inclined. We are not better than others because we have less painful circumstances. Most importantly, none of us are in any way inherently entitled to any of the privileges we enjoy. Should we not therefore be grateful for our circumstances? I realize that this concept is not new, and has been taught throughout all periods of time. Nevertheless, the path by which I came to better understand a truth I already knew has been precious to me. It has caused me to reevaluate many of my attitudes towards various aspects of my life and the world.
We can choose to be grateful. We can choose to understand the fragility of the human condition, and realize the futility of life without divinity. We can choose to forsake our unfounded sense of entitlement, and acknowledge that we are of ourselves weak and ineffective. We can humble ourselves and in humility find strength. Then when we have humbled ourselves, we can rely on the Lord and reach levels and accomplishments which were hitherto unattainable. I am in no way an expert; pride has been one of my greatest challenges in life. But I know that we are happier in humility. We can find peace in humility. We can be grateful for what we have, and that shift in attitude accomplishes more than a lifetime of struggling without it. Yes, we must work, and we must work hard. Acknowledging our personal weaknesses does not diminish our responsibility--if anything it accentuates the necessity of living in accordance with the privileges we have received.
I am grateful for the many blessings I enjoy in life. I am grateful for the experiences I have had that have helped mold me into the man I am today. I am grateful for the companionship of a loving wife who helps me better see the man I must be. Ultimately, I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, and for the Atonement of His son that enables me to change. I still have much to do, but I have started a greater effort to live with a permanent sense of gratitude rather than taking life for granted or feeling that I deserve all that I have. It's easier said than done, but let us go and do what deep down we all know is right. Only then can we be truly happy and at peace.