Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open towards each other; a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly; a country guided by Common Sense.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Excerpted from an essay contributed to the 2006 Vision Project, Br. David’s words and wisdom remain profoundly resonant and relevant “in this given moment of history.” At age 94, Br. David is currently living with dear friends in Argentina where he continues to focus on his writing. To read the complete essay see A Vision for the World.


Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open towards each other; a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly; a country guided by Common Sense.

This may seem more than doubtful when we look around us and see what we have made of the world: “Things fall apart,” says the poet W. B. Yeats succinctly. A “blood-dimmed tide is loosed” upon the world, and in the face of this tide of violence “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Gratitude? The very word seems utterly out of place, even offensive, under the given circumstances. And yet, we speak of “given” circumstances. This is significant. Whatever is given is gift; and the appropriate response to any gift is gratitude.

But what could be the gift in this given moment of history? The gift hidden in our unprecedented world crisis is an equally unprecedented opportunity. The gift within every gift is opportunity. For us, these days, it is the opportunity to wake up—wake up to the madness of violence and counter-violence. For far too long we were able to ignore the vicious circle of violence against violence—international or domestic, our own or that of others. Let us face it: the supreme danger is violence—regardless who commits it, terrorists or legitimate governments. No rhetoric, no posturing can any longer obscure the fact that violence breeds violence. We must break that cycle of madness.

Violence has roots in every heart. It is within my own heart that I must recognize fear, agitation, coldness, alienation, blind anger and the impulse to retaliation. Here in my heart I can turn fear into courageous trust, agitation into stillness, confusion into clarity, isolation into a sense of belonging, alienation into love, and irrational reaction into Common Sense. The creative intelligence of gratefulness will suggest to each one of us how to go about this task. As examples I will list here five small gestures of gratitude that I have personally tested. They create a ripple effect to counteract violence.

Five Small Gestures of Gratitude to Counteract Fear

1. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage

All gratitude expresses trust. Suspicion will not even recognize a gift as gift: who can prove that it isn’t a lure, a bribe, a trap? Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The very air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media. There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.

2. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear

Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. In fact, mass hysteria fostered by the media betrays a morbid curiosity rather than deep feeling—superficial agitation rather than a deep current of compassion. The truly compassionate ones are calm and strong. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear. From the stillness of your heart’s core reach out. Be calm and spread calm.

3. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore

When you are grateful, your heart is open—open towards others, open for surprise. When disasters hit we often see remarkable examples of this openness: strangers helping strangers sometimes in heroic ways. Others turn away, isolate themselves, dare even less than at other times to look at each other. Violence begins with isolation. Break this pattern. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore—eye-contact at least—with the cashier at the supermarket, someone on the elevator, a beggar. Look a stranger in the eyes today and realize that there are no strangers.

4. Give someone an unexpected smile today

You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is not room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take and you say “yes” to that belonging. This “yes” is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your “yes” into action. Don’t let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.

5.  Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense

What your gratefulness does for yourself is as important as what it does for others. Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense—not the conventional mind set which we often confuse with it. The common sense that springs from gratefulness is incompatible with a set mind. It is just another name for thinking wedded to cosmic intelligence. Your “yes” to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings—all beings for that matter. In a world we hold in common, nothing else makes sense but Common Sense. We have only one enemy: Our common enemy is violence. Common Sense tells us: we can stop violence only by stopping to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

The five steps I am suggesting here are small, but they work. It helps that they are small: anyone can take them. Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open towards each other; a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly; a country guided by Common Sense. To the extent to which we show ourselves not hateful but grateful this becomes reality.


This is an excerpt from an essay originally written for the 2006 Vision Project.

To read a German translation of the complete article, see Eine Vision für die Welt.


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Br. David Steindl-Rast#Peace
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author
Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.