Appreciation: a Matter of Perspective
I stopped by one of my favorite places to get something to eat. It was supposed to be a quick in and out, so that I could head home to do some work. Sometimes I will go there for a little social time. The people who hang out there are so very different from me. At one level, we share almost no common interests, except perhaps an interest in sports. While I like sports, they certainly are not a very high priority in my life.
I know the owner of the place pretty well, although I would only call him a friend in a very loose sense of that word. So I was sitting on a chair, waiting for some food to arrive. The owner came to me and greeted me. It was nice to see him, for it had been a pretty long time since we had seen each other. I was genuinely glad to see and greet him.
I am sure he makes it a high priority to befriend all the people who come into his place. In the business world that is called business development! If I were to put it crassly, I was part of his business development plan! If I would come to his place more often and spend more money, I would be more important. That might be true, but he never treats me that way. And I appreciate that.
Our conversation began with the usual small talk---chitchat. I always ask about his business. My guess is that most of his customers like the business, but only for their self-serving purposes. They don’t really care about his business. I try to show some care when I ask, “how is business going?”
He talked about hanging in there till his two kids get through school. “I feel like I owe them that---a good college education,” he quipped. It occurred to me that he was very aware of why he was doing what he was doing. It was pretty selfless. That touched me. I am sure he would be happy to be rich, but his kids were more important. I get the feeling when they are through with school, he will sell the business and move on. He looked tired.
I commented on the fact that it was neat that he was giving his kids the gift of an education without debt. “Someday they will appreciate it,” I said. This seemed to trigger something in him. I know he immigrated to this country from Lebanon when he was in high school. Thinking about how much he was giving his kids prompted him to go back to his own childhood in Lebanon.
“We did not have a TV in the house till I was in high school,” he said. He talked about how some of the kids in his neighborhood would gather at someone’s house that had a TV. They would sit on a bench and all watch the same TV. He began to recall other, small things he would have that would seem to be nearly nothing compared to what his own kids have. And that is true for many in older generations. It is often true that our kids have much more than we ever did. At one level, this is quite good. We want that for them. At another level, if we have too much, it may make appreciation harder to develop.
For me personally that word, appreciation, is a poignant spiritual word. There is a profundity to it that always goes deeply into my soul. I began to think about appreciation---what it is and how we get it. Two words immediately came to my mind to describe appreciation, namely, gratitude and joy. Gratitude seems to be a window into appreciation. Appreciation is a recognition and savoring of something good and beneficial in our lives.
It occurred to me that appreciation is a matter of perspective. From a certain perspective almost anything can become an object of appreciation. From a different perspective, I may have no appreciation for the same thing. For example, we might be together on a warm sunny day. You might appreciate the beauty of the day. At the same time, I might complain about how hot it is, how damnably bright the sun is, etc. Instead of appreciating, I grump my way through the day.
It became clear that if I can cultivate good perspectives, then I am more able to appreciate what is. And that surely leads to more joy. If I can cultivate an appreciative perspective on life---on who I am and what I have---I am more likely to live in that joy---to enjoy more deeply and fully.
All these thoughts swirled through my head as I listened to the owner. While he may not have thought about this in the same way I just presented it, I am fairly confident that he basically has an appreciative perspective on life. He knows what it is to live with much less than his kids. He appreciates what he has, but could be content and appreciate much less. There is a radical freedom in that.
I don’t want to be just like him. Instead I would like to give some attention to my own perspective on my life---who I am and what I have. I would like to develop a spiritual perspective. If I can do that, I am much more likely to appreciate myself and what I have. I am more likely to live in joy. And I will be free.