Every year around my birthday I like to take stock of the past twelve months--what was awesome (seeing Stevie Wonder in concert), what changed (I moved in with my boo), what challenged me (balancing work and art), what just sucked (my grandmother's house burned down). It’s like a personal New Year. Gratitude for all of those things, even the sucky ones, is something I’m working to cultivate, and it doesn’t happen just by thinking, “Oh, I’d like to feel more gratitude in my life.” It’s a choice, and it’s a practice. And life promises ample opportunities to do the practice.
Recently I was biking with a friend. We passed through an intersection in which the other street had a stop sign and we did not. The driver at the stop sign waved us through, and my friend mouthed “Thank you!” and waved backed. I was incensed.
“Why are you telling him thank you? We have the right of way!! He had a stop sign!! He had to stop!!!”
She was surprised at my fury, to say the least. I argued that to say thank you was encouraging drivers to think of giving bikers the right of way as a courtesy rather than a necessity, something they might just as easily choose to ignore. My friend countered that when a driver was friendly, being friendly back might help them to have a more positive view of cyclists. And besides, she felt better inside when she was friendly rather than self-righteous. Oh, I said.
Entitlement is the killer of gratitude.
When we feel entitled to something (a possession, a job, a roadway, a societal position), it squelches in us the ability to feel grateful for having it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some things that are basic human rights that we all should feel entitled to, and be angry about when we don’t have them (or when others don’t have them, for that matter), and fight to get them. But there are many other smaller things that we think we deserve that maybe we don’t, things that we think belong to us, that actually belong to no one, or to everyone.
There’s an Ani Difranco lyric that I’ve carried around in my heart since high school (yes, don’t laugh, I was once a devoted Ani Difranco fan) that sums up my position here:
The world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world.
I’ve started thanking drivers on my bike more often than not. Being grouchy to drivers certainly isn’t helping anyone. I don’t get it right every time, but I’m practicing. When entitlement creeps up, I try to find gratitude instead. Because ultimately, I feel better inside when I’m grateful instead of entitled. And I think those drivers on the road do too.