Gratitude is one of the most sublime human attributes. It acknowledges the contribution of a person in terms of time, resources, comfort, assets or safety to help another human being. It demonstrates that we acknowledge the altruistic nature of selfless acts and respond with heartfelt words and actions. Gratitude is noble because it signifies humility and deference without consideration of status, gender or age.
The English language has two words for someone acknowledging help. One is “thankful” and the other is “grateful”. My teacher in middle standard told us that “one is thankful to God and grateful to human beings.” The word gratitude is closer to grateful and is, therefore, meant for human beings.
People in Pakistan have developed a strange pattern in offering gratitude. They do not differentiate between two kinds of appreciations. They feel that displaying gratitude to God and God alone is sufficient for favours received from fellow human beings. They believe that it is ultimately the Almighty who guides or instructs humans to act in kindness and, therefore, it is He alone who has to be thanked. This also implies that the person giving favour had no choice but to be good and that their presence at a particular time and place was preordained. That may be fine because to a certain kind of believer, the Heavenly Master keeps an eye on His creations and controls every event in the world. However, human beings who may have gone out of their way to offer their time, money and resources to make this help possible, too, need to be thanked. We must not belittle the selfless actions of human beings.
If a doctor heals us of a sickness, we immediately thank God for curing us. While that is fine, It is equally important, if not more, that we recognize the efforts of the doctor who displayed professionalism in correctly diagnosing the issue and then prescribing the right medicines in adequate doses. Then there is the paramedical staff that assists in issuing appointments, maintains the pharmacies, administers injections, intravenous liquids and various tablets, and determines blood pressures, ECGs and blood tests. These are the chores without which neither the ailment can be identified nor medicines be prescribed. This, of course, is not the end. There are teams that have invented the medicines and carried out trials before they were approved for human consumption. Not only that, there are various machines and medical procedures that have been invented and refined. They, too, have contributed to the welfare of all of us. As beneficiaries of their work, we owe them our gratitude. It’s the same for all other professions. The chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers, economists and many other professionals have made the modern world possible. The service or the product that we get is the culmination of combined work of a series of persons, who may or may not have been financially awarded for their contribution. We should at least acknowledge their work in our heart.
There are those who ask why we ought to thank people for doing what they have been paid for. It is true that we pay for services and goods that we receive. However, there are personal behaviours for which there can be no payment. There are shopkeepers who speak to customers nicely, make it easy for us to make our choices, facilitate in pairing our requirements with products, help in loading our vehicle and offer a drink. We don’t get these services in superstores that are largely automated. Shopkeepers or store operators, too, don’t have to provide any of these services, nor there is any payment expected. These are human gestures and are paid back in human way. Curtsy is intangible but not without character. Its effects are long lasting.
I narrate a personal story here. When I was advised to undergo bypass surgery last year, I soaked up quite a bit of information from the internet. I learnt how Russian and American physicians had pioneered the various procedures that are currently being used for this intricate surgery. I learnt about the heart-and-lung machine without which this surgery cannot take place. After my surgery, when members of my family and friends came to see me and asked me to thank the Almighty for successful operation, I would reply that while I do that in my heart, I also want to acknowledge and thank a long chain of people who made this surgery possible.
The kind of medical and communication facilities that we avail were unimaginable a generation ago. We have made huge strides in food and fruit growth. Thanks to Mr. Shaver’s initiative in mass poultry production, we have a cheap source of proteins and healthy meat. Eggs are growing bigger and cheaper. Transportation is spreading rapidly. This has been achieved by the efforts of human beings of various races and religions. While we pray to God and thank Him for his boundless blessings every single minute, we should once in a while be grateful to all these unknown individuals who have enriched our life and made it comfortable. Expression of gratitude has nothing to do with religion, sect or creed. It is only concerned with interaction between humans and should be seen in that context only.
Jonas Salk appeared on the cover of Time magazine on the 29th of March, 1954 for inventing the polio vaccination. In my childhood, it was a common sight to see people with deformities in one leg. In my family there were four such people, including my maternal grandfather and two cousins. Salk developed the vaccination and didn’t even patent it, so as to facilitate its cheap production. Today, the whole world, with the exception of a few cases in Pakistan, is polio free. Should we not pause to offer a word of gratitude to these inventors and developers who have paved the way for our happiness and well being?
Weaving gratitude into our life makes us humble, modest and courteous. These are the traits of individuals in a humane society. A labourer hired in a vegetable market, a mason mending our house, a gardener planting flowers for us, a sanitary worker sweeping the streets, the cook making our food, a postman delivering a letter, a driver who gives us a lift on the road; they are all deserving of a smile of cheer, a pat on the back and a word of gratitude. Such acts soften hearts, induce happiness, enrich society and create a ripple effect that reaches far and beyond.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at email@example.com
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org