February 4, 2021

On Gratitude

When times are tough we are often urged to be grateful for what we have. My father drove us slightly crazy with his admonishments along these lines. “There’s always someone worse off than you.” This, while true, doesn’t ease the pain a lick.

Gratitude can’t be this weak ass thing that appears on one of those wall plaques in curlicue script with a bouquet of dried flowers stuck on it.

If gratitude is going to save us we have to act like we’re an IRS agent looking for assets to tax. We gotta get out the magnifying glass glass and be rigorous. Examine and work up a complete list.

As I reflect on the work of the past year, the leaders I listened to and advised were clear about what they had to work with. Focused on assets and strengths they could pull together, or rearrange, to navigate chaos. They weren’t using a lame list of “blessings”. They were IRS agent level rigorous.


As I write about the “stages of being” after disasters “reckoning” becomes so large, so all consuming as I try to get down what it really means. What I’ve seen and what a true reckoning offers all of us in terms of opportunities to move forward.

You may mistake this grateful accounting for a “think positive” sermon. That would be a huge mistake.

Disasters are revelations. We are revealed in our flawed state. Our foundations and structures exposed. We’ve all seen things that had been somewhat hidden. Discovered ugliness and cruelties in ourselves and others. Seen what grasping greed and what ugly despair can do to us. We’ve gotten a clearer picture of who we built all of this FOR and who was intentionally left out. Who will be first and who will be last to be awarded relief whether a loan or a vaccine. There are very few accidents in these systems. When the cladding falls from a building shaken in an earthquake we can see how it was engineered. There it stands, ugly and naked. Flawed and broken.

We have several choices. We can turn away. Run from what we’ve seen. We can focus on our own blessings, thanking God we don’t live there. Whew. We can face it squarely and dial back to how we came to build something so poised to fall down on the heads of people most vulnerable. Those that never get out of the basement. Now that we know they kept it all running, held it up with their sweat and service, made our comforts possible, what shall we do?

I work with a bank that stepped back from issuing statements about equity and racial justice, opting instead for an internal examination of their own practices and programs. We don’t need a bank to march – we need the bank to bank fairly today AND responsibly redress failures in the past. We need a bank to scrub it’s practices – perform the sort due diligence and scrutiny of its practices formerly reserved for weighing the financial worthiness of its potential customers. Do we do right by the people who are or could have been our customers, clients, employees? If our current groups of these don’t look like the region we live in, are we willing to unravel the barriers that keep them out?

Those folks sweating it out on the bottom rung, don’t need our gratitude or a plaque. They need a stairwell out of confinement. A living wage. Access to health care. They need us all to pay our dues and taxes so the education that benefits all can be accessible to all. They need to walk down the street in safety.

It all seems so overwhelming. To rebuild this whole thing. Can’t we just tweak it? A little here. A dribble there? Patch it up so it gets us a few mode miles down the road. Be a “moderate”. We don’t want “radical” change right?

The truth is, once we see how it’s built, once we begin to change the foundational beliefs, and if we tweak the foundation at all, the shift will be felt all the way through the structure. People in the upper floors will feel the building sway, and may even lose their footing. All the perks of the upper floors might disappear.

Here we are. At the reckoning point. Again.

© Angela Blanchard

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