This just won’t do

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A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine and his wife were visiting a friend of mine, whom I’ll call Dassan, in another country. I had been to Dassan’s home several times, and I recognized that both he and his community were very poor, certainly by U.S. standards.

When my acquaintance arrived at the airport, Dassan was there to pick him up. He proudly took them to a small apartment where he and his wife would be staying for the three weeks of their visit.

The residents of the apartment had graciously moved out for this visit so the American and his wife could have the place to themselves. But when my friend’s wife looked around the apartment, especially at the very small bathroom with concrete floors and an open window high on the wall, she said, “This just won’t do.” She walked out of the apartment and never went back in. She was adamant that her accommodations be improved.

In contrast, Dassan’s home was very small, and the kitchen was more like a pantry, consisting only of shelving with produce. There were no appliances or running water. Dassan’s wife cooked over a fire just outside the backdoor, and their bathroom was only a small toilet next to the house. Bathing was done in a washtub next to the fireplace in the yard.

It still makes me angry when I think about how selfish and self-centered this visitor’s thoughtlessness and ethnocentricity makes Americans appear.

We are starting a new year. As I’ve written several times over the years, gratitude is one of mental health’s secrets. Being grateful for what you have instead of ruing what you don’t have is a key to happiness.

I suggest a resolution for 2016 for you and your children. Work hard each day to find gratitude in your hearts for what you have.

For example, I am a hunter. When I come back from a hunting trip, I’m often asked if I had any luck. I know what is meant: did I shoot anything? But I always answer the same way.

Yes, I had all kinds of luck. I had the freedom to enjoy a couple of days of solitude. I was lucky enough to enjoy the outdoors and watch, birds, squirrels, and other woodland critters. I didn’t fall out of a tree or hurt myself. I had tremendous luck!

A friend of mine in India once sent an email asking me to “pray for $5” for him because he was starting a weekly men’s group and wanted to serve coffee to them. He needed $5 a week to pay for it. He wasn’t complaining or asking for a handout. He truly was only asking for my prayers that he might find a source for this money.

Yet the never ending drive-thru line at Starbucks teaches me that many Americans spend $5 every day on themselves just for a single cup of coffee on the way to work. Not only that, people in that line might readily complain that the coffee is too hot or too cool or has too much sugar or not enough creamer – this just won’t do.

Once when my son was small and I asked my wife about her day, she described my son as “perfectly 2.” I’ve never forgotten those words as I work with children who are challenges – children who need extra attention or who push my buttons.

These are the children that need me. They need my patience, my experience, and my guidance. They don’t need me to criticize or be exasperated with them for being 2 or 3 years old. Teens don’t need me to be impatient when their moods fluctuate, when they display immaturity, or when they are irresponsible. They are perfectly teens.

My wife, my relatives, and my friends need me to be grateful for who they are, and they need me to see their strengths as well as their frailties.

Everywhere I turn in 2016 – family, work, students, my possessions, and my experiences – I want to be grateful. I want to be able to say, “This will do just fine.”

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., a regular columnist for The Citizen, is also a college professor, a licensed counselor and a public speaker. In addition to wearing those hats, he has served as a regular lecturer at the FBI Academy, as a profiler with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad and is also author of “Survivors: What We Can Learn From How They Cope With Horrific Tragedy.” His website is gregmoffatt.com.]