A call to gratitude

“Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

When I see the scions of wealth parade grandly through my town with, what I interpret as, smug entitlement on their faces, I think of the saying attributed to flinty Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer:

“Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

If I had known this saying at the time, I could have understood the rich kids in school who were forever bragging about their parents’ possessions, as if they themselves had done something to earn privilege beyond being born lucky. Knowing Switzer’s wise words certainly has helped me to understand recent leaders.

Nowadays, entitlement has become more than bad manners. It has become an ugly way of life — justifying tax evasion, rapacity in business, living large while the majority live small, stealing elections, shredding the social safety net and sneering at the “losers.”

“Why should I pay taxes?” the refrain goes. “I earned all of this.” Well, in fact, you didn’t. You got lucky. Most personal mega-wealth today is inherited, not earned, and corporate wealth is created by many hands, not just the few taking the credit and controlling the till.

Class warfare in America has turned ugly and dangerous to the point of threatening democracy and undermining a social contract grounded in sharing, mutual respect, self-sacrifice and gratitude.

It is that last attribute – gratitude – whose absence most alarms me.

When we take credit for what others have done, we steal from them and drown ourselves in the delusion of self-glorification. We become weak and cruel.

When we get lucky and then refuse to help others, we betray our common humanity and degrade ourselves. We betray that “great cloud of witness” which bore us onward — from teachers to lovers, from mentors to colleagues, from pastors to strangers and those who created the wealth to which some of us lay claim.

The answer to that moral rot is to thank other people and to thank God. When we are grateful, we see a more complete truth about ourselves, namely, our dependence on the graciousness of others and the providence of God.

Even our failures and mishaps carry us forward, making us who we are and revealing the love of God. Gratitude honors all that made us.

Gratitude puts us in right relationship with God — as the one who loved us first, who saw our souls when we were blinded by our own light, who saw our needs when we were pretending, who lifted us up when we gave up.

How can we pray to a God whom we never acknowledge as our benefactor? How can we know ourselves if we don’t recognize God’s blessings? How can we face the trials of life if we think the future is something we have to earn?

Gratitude is more than good manners. It is the bedrock of decency and self-awareness, indeed the very bedrock of faith. Many people think that being right is the crux of faith and having more is the point of living. In fact, gratitude is the heart of both faith and life. Gratitude opens the door to all other rooms in the household of God. Gratitude opens us to the people around us.

The most honest prayer begins in giving thanks. The longer I live and the more pretense I let fall away, the lengthier my expressions of gratitude. Some days I never get beyond “songs of thankfulness and praise.”

In saying “Thanks,” I usually have said enough.

Tom Ehrich is now mostly retired from a career in publishing and consulting and lives on a farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. His daily meditations, “On a Journey,”  are read by a national audience.