If we find we cannot help others, the least we can do is to desist from harming them. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
This is an old truism, crossing cultures and the ages, dating back to at least the 4th century BC. It is quoted in Latin (as “first, do no harm” or primum non nocere) and Greek (as part of the Hippocratic Oath “abstain from doing harm”). It is a truly universal expression of concern and compassion for our fellow human beings.
We cannot always help everybody every time we see someone in need. We can try as often as we can, but sometimes we come up short. This quote says it clearly; if you can’t help, at least don’t hurt them. It’s one thing to not be able to give food to a hungry person. It is another thing entirely to insult them or yell at them or otherwise cause them physical or emotional harm.
Why is gratitude important?
To me, an attitude of gratitude, or being thankful and appreciative, is an important part of being a good person. If we are grateful for what we have, it is easier to feel sympathy and compassion for those who are doing without. I believe that gratitude helps us to expand our hearts and increase our compassion.
Gratitude also helps us choose properly when we see someone in need. If you are grateful for what you have, and see someone who is without, you have no desire to cause them any harm. Those who do wish to harm those who are in need are not typically the kind of people you would peg as gracious, right?
Where can I apply this in my life?
I’m grateful for a great many things. While no longer a “spring chicken,” I am very active both in body and mind. I have a great family, healthy children and a wonderful wife. While I could always find ways to spend more money, we have enough for what we need. In short, life is pretty good.
What are you grateful for? Grab some paper and write down the things that are going well in our life, and why you are grateful for them. Are there parts of your life where you are getting by? Are there parts of you life where things aren’t going well, but could be a lot worse? Is that something to be grateful for?
How is your health? If there is something wrong, could it be worse? How is the rest of your health besides that issue? Is there anything in that situation to be grateful for? It could be worse, right? Are you grateful it isn’t worse?
Our finances aren’t great, but we’re getting by. We eat well, but not fancy. Our kids understand it’s not a great economy, and they love hot dogs and ramen noodles for dinner. We know people who have lost their homes or have had to move to other states to find a job. It could be a lot worse, and we’re grateful for what we have.
What did you come up with as answers, for what are you grateful? Hopefully you have a pretty good sized list. If not, I would ask why not? If things are so bad that nothing in any part of your life could get worse, then you’ve hit rock bottom, and it’s time to rejoice! The only way to go is up! It may sound like a platitude, but it’s true. If things are really that bad, have a heart full of gratitude, for truly the worst is over!
Now that your heart is full of gratitude, think of someone who has it worse than you. Do you feel an urge to kick them while they’re down? I don’t. Is it easier to feel sympathy and compassion for them, now that your heart is full of gratitude? It certainly is for me.
For me, cultivating an attitude of gratitude is easy. I just remind myself each morning, and every time I’m feeling down, how much worse it could be. It helps me get through the tough spots. It reminds me of an old saying, attributed to many sources : “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
How much better do you think your attitude might be if you could remind yourself each morning that things could be worse, and that you are glad for what you have? Can you do that, each morning, read through the list you just made?