Gratitude is an interesting thing. In an Oprah-ish way, we are told to practice gratitude, especially when life is being particularly shitty and rather than sitting with those feelings, we are encouraged to focus on the good things we have. Which is not an entirely bad idea, but everything in moderation, including looking on the bright side, eh?
Gratitude is something that I wrestle with in my own life in particular ways regarding having a disability. In my last job, I was heavily pushed to profess my gratitude that the company I was working for was taking on web and software accessibility. I was interviewed multiple times for the company newsletter and ended up, through not-so-subtle prompting, repeating several statements about how grateful I was to the company for taking up the cause. And, to be fair, I was grateful ish. At the same time, it seemed to me that perhaps it wasn’t necessarily my job to pat them on the back or massage their ego with constant thankfulness. Sometimes, I simply wanted to say, “Hey guys, just do the work, alright? Know that you’re doing something good in the lives of many, and stop pushing us to constantly tell you about how wonderful you are. Just trust your work.”
Truthfully, I resent the idea that I should automatically be grateful. I try to do the right thing by people, which means treating people with respect and equity, and I don’t expect a bunch of gratitude from those who are marginalized in society just because I might be kind to them or do something to remotely level the playing field. As a developer said on a podcast I heard the other day, “Blind people shouldn’t have to pay to access the world.” I believe that for all marginalized people, and I don’t just mean monetarily. I don’t believe people should have to pay by sacrificing the energy it takes to constantly be grateful, either.
A few nights ago, I was walking home late without Kiva and crossed an intersection a bit crookedly. A woman on the sidewalk started directing me when I got to the middle of the street. I normally hate this. It’s really disorienting to be yelled at (however helpfully) while you’re in the middle of the street trying to avoid getting run over. I knew I needed the direction, though, so I tried not to be too irritated and instead to accept the assistance with humility. When I got to the curb, I thanked her. She called after me, “Thank you for letting me help you.”
I marveled at her gratitude. I often wonder if people who try to help me do it because they are desperate to feel useful, to feel like they made a difference to someone. To be thanked for this seems to corroborate my theory. It made me think of all the times I’ve felt so cheered to help someone, to level that playing field. Sometimes, letting yourself be helped is just as much for the other person as it is for you. I am grateful for that opportunity, at least.