As Grateful as We Aspire to Be

Greetings, YALSA members and interested parties!

The first month of the journey of this year’s presidential theme, Striving for Equity Using YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff is nearly over, and soon we will be looking at equity issues through the lens of each of the ten competencies. But before we move into August, I want to express appreciation to the many members and others who recently have taken the time to talk to me about what YALSA means to them, how YALSA could help them in their day job, and how fulfilling working with teens can be. All of this makes me full of gratitude. So before we move into the month-by-month examination of the theme, I decided to explore how in this time of inequity, outrage, and discord, gratitude can help break through the negativity and show us the path to achieving our goals.

Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

Diana Butler Bass writes about this subject in her book Grateful (HarperOne, ISBN: 9780062659477, 2018). In it, she refers to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 that asked American respondents if they feel a strong sense of gratitude at least once a week. Surprising to her (and to me!), 78% of those asked said that they did feel this strong sense of gratitude, that frequently. As she explored this, she asked her friends and in particular, one sociologist friend, if this number could possibly be true. The sociologist explained that this is likely a “social desirability bias”, which is more about how a person wishes to be perceived by others and to themselves. They may aspire to show more gratitude to others with the notion that gratitude is a virtue. What does this bias say about us and why does it matter?

Bass continues by discussing how there is a divide between personal gratitude and community gratitude. When we simply aspire to personal happiness, it can become what famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (also the subject of last year’s YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalist The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix) called “cheap grace”. Bonhoeffer observed that “one easily overestimates the importance of one’s own acts and deeds, compared with what become only through other people”. Which Bass recaps in Grateful by writing that “…life is an abundance of shared gifts. We do not really achieve. We receive. We give to each other. We are grateful.” She describes the ways in which one person’s gratitude can be another’s resentment.

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When one group is grateful that their political candidate, sports team, or prom décor has been selected, others are bound to be unhappy. This is important to remember when we consider equity issues and the various aspects and objectives of the recently adopted YALSA EDI Plan. A case in point: If an element of a community is not considered when a new library building is constructed, they may not find much reason to show gratitude, while those who fully benefited by the new building may not understand the first group’s lack of appreciation. Those benefited may find the other group to be ungrateful. And mutual resentment is sure to follow.

As we strive for equity, we do not and cannot simply complain about the inequities that we observe. It’s easy to merely point out inequities, or worse, be silent bystanders. Instead, we must communicate across our differences. True, thoughtful solutions must be sought, even if they take time and patience. If we live with an attitude of gratitude, as 78% of us at least claim to aspire to, many situations can become opportunities to diffuse inequitable situations with grace.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for the work you do for and with teens!

Todd Krueger, YALSA President 2019-2020 | Twitter @toddbcpl  

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