by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
There is an attitude that is sometimes referred to as a "Center of the Universe Complex." This is when someone feels that everything centers around him. His mindset goes like this: "Of course, people do things for me. They should. Everyone should. And therefore I have no need to be grateful to anyone. Everyone who does things for me is doing exactly what they should be doing and I don't have to feel grateful."
On one level the basic idea that "the universe was created for me" is a correct concept. As the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) states, "A person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for me." But this is not meant to be a source of selfishness and self-centeredness. Just the opposite; this is a statement that we are responsible for the world. We need to think about what we can do to help the entire world. Of course, we are all limited in time, energy, and resources. But we should do as much as we can.
A self-centered person isn't grateful. He is more likely to have complaints that others aren't doing enough for him. As a matter of fact, there is never enough that others can do for him. If they would do things for him day and night, there would still be more that they could do. And a self-centered person won't be a truly happy person. He is a taker and not a giver.
Givers' attitudes can foster in them a sense of gratitude for what they receive. They are grateful for opportunities to do kindness for others. This will provide them with many opportunities for doing positive, meaningful things that give them joy.
Someone told me that he almost got divorced, but at the last minute his marriage was saved. He related, "As a child I didn't do anything for anyone. I was an only child and my parents couldn't do enough for me. They never let me do things and spoiled me rotten. I got anything I wanted. I had no tasks or duties to do in my house. My mother or father would do it all. I grew up with the attitude that everything was coming to me and there was no need to be grateful to anyone for what they did for me. When I met my future wife, she seemed like a very kind person. And I thought to myself, 'She will be like my mother. I won't have to do anything for her and she will do everything for me.'
"I was taken by surprise when after a year of marriage she told me she was totally miserable. She worked hard and I never uttered a word of gratitude. I didn't help out in the house no matter how tired she was. If I was lazy but appreciative, it would be bearable. But all she got were complaints that she didn't do enough, and what she did, she didn't do fast enough. She asked me to go for counseling but I refused. I viewed her complaints as immature. That is what she was there for: to serve me. She should be so happy that she was married that she shouldn't have any complaints.
"When the rabbis at the Rabbinical Court heard the entire story, they told me, 'Your wife does so much for you, how can you not be grateful?' 'That's her job and obligation,' I defended myself. But they told me that I needed to develop at least a minimal level of gratitude. If not, I wouldn't be able to make a future marriage work either.
"'See if you can become more grateful,' they said to me. 'Let's meet again in a month.' That night I couldn't sleep. I realized that they were right. My wife did do a tremendous amount of things for me. I should have been grateful. I apologized to her from the bottom of my heart, and told her that I resolved to be grateful. And I would do more things for her. She was skeptical and said, 'Seeing is believing. Words are cheap. Unless I see a change, the marriage is over.' That hurt. But it was understandable.
"By the end of the month, she saw in action how I was deeply grateful to her for the many things that she did for me. I helped her in ways that I wouldn't have believed I would ever do. What's more, I felt so much better about myself for improving my character.
"That was more than a year ago," he said. "And I have a happy marriage. My wife is happy with me and I am happy with her. I see how close I was to ruining my life. I am grateful that the wake-up call I received actually woke me up."
When someone does something imperfectly for you, you will have to make a choice. One choice is to focus mainly on what wasn't done right, and could -- even should -- have been done better. The other choice is to focus mainly on what was done right, and to be sensitive about the wording of the correction.
When we have a gratitude consciousness, we will focus mainly on what the other person did that was helpful to us. We will have "a good eye." We will see what was done. We will see what was done right. We will see the other person's efforts. We will comment on how we sincerely appreciated what the other person did -- and did right.
Don't we have to point out what wasn't done right and what needs to be done better? Very often, yes. And we need to do it in such a way that our expressions of appreciation come first and stronger...
Start off with words of gratitude. Let it be stated clearly that you are grateful. Then you can gently and sensitively point out what needs to be done better, either this time or in the future. When you point out the mistake or what wasn't done yet, don't use the word "but."
For example: "Thank you for what you did, but you did this thing wrong, and that thing wrong, and those things wrong." Rather, use the word "and." "Thank you so very much for what you did, and allow me to point out this detail that needs to be corrected."
What will be stronger in your mind, gratitude for the positive, or irritation for the negative? Regardless of what it used to be, now, in the present, appreciate your own opportunities to feel grateful and to express it. Allow your feelings of gratitude to increase and let them create the good will that they have the power to generate.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org