Grateful living is a universal ethic capable of ushering us peacefully into a new era in which we must share the world’s resources fairly and conserve the environment for future generations. An ethic is “a set of moral principles or values” (Webster’s New Collegiate). This is not a set of rules but rather the general principles and values with which we approach life and other people.
Our era is one in which both dangers and opportunities have become global in their impacts. Technology, capital, and employment now flow freely among nations in ways that devastate some while bringing prosperity to others. Moreover, the threats of war, terrorism, or environmental disaster originating in one place now have a global reach from which no nation is secure.
The transition before us is perhaps the greatest challenge the people of the world have ever faced. Indeed, it is probably the first challenge that all of the world’s people have needed to face together.
For that reason, we need not only a new ethic for developed nations; we need a new ethic that can be shared by traditional cultures as well. This is because many traditional cultures regard the rapid changes brought by globalization as a vicious cultural conquest by the West and respond in anger.
Gratefulness – the simple response of our heart to this life in all its fullness – goes beyond boundaries of creed, age, vocation, gender, and nation. Br. David Steindl-Rast, co-founder of grateful.org, notes that “our approach to gratefulness has to be big enough to embrace all the difficulties of the world.”
Grateful living offers a universal ethic for our times because:
• The universal sentiment of gratefulness is shared by all cultures and religious traditions
• Gratefulness lies at the mystical core of all religions, and can provide a point of agreement between people from different traditions that transcends the divisive dogmas of each religion or sect.
• In the same way, it provides a common language for dialogue between religious people and non-religious people, since both religious and non-religious people can deeply appreciate the value of gratitude.
• Gratitude teaches us to appreciate what we have, and so becomes the starting point for relieving the fear of scarcity that drives our unsustainable consumption patterns.
• One cannot be grateful and hold on for long to the attitude of being a victim. This greatly diminishes the anger that can lead to war.
• Gratitude teaches us to appreciate all that comes to us gratuitously, which includes the non-human natural world with its countless plants, animals, and minerals. Thus, gratitude is a green attitude.
• Gratitude causes us to regard other peoples and cultures as blessings and not as threats to our way of life.
• Gratitude offers a spirit of generosity and trust to replace the suspicion and resentment that stands in the way of achieving a peaceful transition to a more just sharing of the world’s bounty.