Lessons in Gratitude and Generosity

in Winter 2017 by

Chances are when hearing the names Harvey, Irma, José, and Maria, your mind will reflect upon this year’s tumultuous and terrifying hurricane season where millions of people in Florida, Houston, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other parts of the Caribbean were struck by devastating storms. Though the official hurricane season ended on November 30, many will be contending with the aftermath of this year’s storms for quite some time. For some, their loss is massive. Families have been left standing in the midst of wreckage where their homes once stood. For others, returning home has meant undertaking an overwhelming effort to repair, rebuild and restore that which had been made uninhabitable by the powerful forces of wind and water. And then, there’s the continuing plight of Puerto Rico, where at the time of this writing, over half of the island’s citizens (1.7 million!) are yet without electricity.  

Over the past many weeks, there has been a great deal of news coverage about these areas with interviews of those whose lives continue to be upended. A common theme throughout the personal stories and reflections are expressions of gratitude for the sparing of their lives and the lives of their family members and loved ones. Over and over, even as they acknowledged feeling overwhelmed by the loss of homes and possessions, and the daunting undertaking they would face in rebuilding, there remained profound expressions of gratitude for life itself, the one thing that is truly irreplaceable. Finding the path to gratitude through life’s toughest times brings both perspective about what is most important and the resilience to persevere through the harsh reality of one’s challenging situation. While an attitude of gratitude may not change those circumstances, it offers a lens for the heart and mind that clarifies and confirms the value of what yet remains.

Importantly, these stories of gratitude were accompanied by others which highlighted the incredible generosity of people towards neighbors and strangers alike. This generosity took many forms including bailing water from houses, offering dry places to sleep, rescuing pets, sharing food, and giving donations of much needed clothing, diapers, and of course, money. Many schools, including Park, participated in relief efforts, encouraging children to express generosity through their individual acts, and ultimately, to experience the even larger impact of our collective action. Perhaps your family participated in other efforts and/or engaged in discussions about the acts of kindness and generosity described in the media.  

With Thanksgiving in the recent past and another holiday season quickly approaching, we frequently encounter messages of gratitude and stories about acts of generosity. Yet, arguably, gratitude and generosity should not be confined to a season or to times of extreme gains or losses.  Where did you learn your first lessons about gratitude and generosity?  Who taught you to share and to say please, thank you, and you’re welcome? Might these seemingly small lessons be more than formalities or “good manners,” but rather the important incubators for a lifetime of offering respect, kindness, gratitude, and generosity? Might these early lessons provide the foundation for encouraging a lifelong appreciation for what we have and an inclination to share and extend ourselves to others?

The cultivation of life skills and habits around gratitude and generosity are possible for every child and for every adult who values lifelong learning and seeks to live as one who values our interconnected humanity. At home and at school, teachable moments abound for these lessons and more. Indeed, this is applied learning at its very best! As with so much that we wish to teach and instill, right-sized opportunities to practice are important. At Park, these small teachable moments are plentiful and sometimes peppermint flavored.*

Onward……..in kindness, gratitude, and generosity.

*For 20 years, Dr. O has given out peppermints to students in the Upper Division (and often to younger students who learn about this tradition!) at designated times during the school day, always accompanied by “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”

Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, PhD (“Dr. O”) is the Psychologist at The Park School. Olivia joined the Park community in 1998 and has over 30 years of experience in private practice, forensic, community mental health and school settings, including the Brookline and Wellesley public schools. As the Psychologist, Olivia supports both faculty and students to ensure that Park is a developmentally attuned and supportive environment for the broad range of children and families that we serve. She welcomes partnering with parents as they navigate their child’s evolving journey in learning and growing.