The onslaught of technology has left us with little energy or mental space to ponder over creation. In times gone by, nature spoke the language of God; it still does but we fail to comprehend it. William Wordsworth, the celebrated English poet, repeatedly lamented the loss of the connection with the divine. His ode, ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ begins with these words:
‘There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light
The glory and freshness of a dream.’
Yet today, we are no longer connected with Mother Nature. In its stead, we have an ever-increasing connection with our devices. Mobile phones, laptops, Kindles, iphones and ipads have barred our vision to see the glory of God’s creation. Is this necessarily a bad thing I hear you say. I think so. And one of the reasons that springs to mind is the absence of gratitude.
Most of us are thankful for presents, and gifts of love and hospitality shown to us by others. We know what gratitude is, what it feels like and everyone is in favour of it. It is a universally acknowledged virtue. At the very least everyone is in favour of receiving it. Children are taught from an early age that it is good manners to say the words, “Thank you.” Even in cultures where verbal expressions are not the norm, reciprocating the favour is its substitute.
Religion also deems gratitude a noble virtue. “He who does not thank people, has not shown gratitude to God,” are the words of an oft-quoted prophetic hadith in Islam. And the other major religions concur with showing gratitude to others.
On the other hand, the opposite of gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Our everyday life in a money-driven economy heightens this ingratitude because there is no need to feel grateful for a service we pay for. If we are staying over at a Hilton hotel, we feel entitled to a functioning plumbing system, clean towels and clean sheets. We do not feel a need to be grateful for them; we take them for granted.
When I buy apples from the fruit market. I pay the asking price in cash. The stallholder and I say ‘Thank you’ to each other, and at times we have a friendly chat. But we both know that this is an economic exchange, not a gift. However, at the self-checkout system at my local superstore, when I buy food there is no need to say ‘Thank you.’ The cash taking interface is a machine and is part of a corporation whose primary function is to make money for its shareholders, who expect regular dividends.
This depersonalisation of services chokes gratitude at its throat and as a result consumers develop a sense of entitlement – they have a legally enforceable right to expect products and services they pay for, and to complain when they do not. This is not the issue. The problem is that such consumers usually feel no gratitude at all for the land that produces their food, or to the farmers who grow it, or to the people who transport and prepare it because the whole process is depersonalised and remote.
This is where the regular practice of showing gratitude for all the blessings we have received is a way of navigating the depersonalised public sphere. By this regular practice of gratitude for other human beings and for our Lord Almighty we colour our mortal existence with infinity. Phrases and formulaic invocations that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, made at different times of the day, at meal times and during other mundane affairs of the world are great for us to emulate. They are a means of increasing our blessings. In the words of our Creator:
‘If ye are thankful, I shall surely increase your blessings.’ (14:7)