On the last official day of summer running, I gathered our team members around and spoke to them of an attitude I hoped we could all adopt for the coming season. Quoting from a recent opinion piece written by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, I suggested we strive to exhibit “dispositional gratitude.” Brooks explains,
The basic logic of the capitalist meritocracy is that you get what you pay for, that you earn what you deserve. But people with dispositional gratitude are continually struck by the fact that they are given far more than they pay for — and are much richer than they deserve. Their families, schools and summer camps put far more into them than they give back. There’s a lot of surplus goodness in daily life that can’t be explained by the logic of equal exchange.
Capitalism encourages us to see human beings as self-interested, utility-maximizing creatures. But people with grateful dispositions are attuned to the gift economy where people are motivated by sympathy as well as self-interest. In the gift economy intention matters…We’re grateful when others took an imaginative leap and put themselves in our mind, even with no benefit to themselves.
Gratitude is also a form of social glue. In the capitalist economy, debt is to be repaid to the lender. But a debt of gratitude is repaid forward, to another person who also doesn’t deserve it. In this way each gift ripples outward and yokes circles of people in bonds of affection. It reminds us that a society isn’t just a contract based on mutual benefit, but an organic connection based on natural sympathy — connections that are nurtured not by self-interest but by loyalty and service…We live in a capitalist meritocracy that encourages individualism and utilitarianism, ambition and pride. But this society would fall apart if not for another economy, one in which gifts surpass expectations, in which insufficiency is acknowledged and dependence celebrated. Gratitude is the ability to see and appreciate this other almost magical economy.
Knowing that the season would be one filled with the pressures of high expectations, I hoped to remind our boys how lucky we were to be healthy and prosperous enough to devote ourselves to such a lofty goal, that we were in this together, and that so many others had helped clear the path for us – from the alums who helped build up our program to their parents who love and support them.
As Brooks suggest, to be grateful is to live with the awesome awareness that we often get back far beyond what we give (even in the full knowledge that we all give a lot). Megan and I felt the full weight of this today when we arrived at the home of Alisa and Jeff Anderson for a surprise baby shower organized by Alisa Anderson and Wendy Brenk and attended by dozens of mothers whose boys (some now young men) I have (or had) the privilege of coaching.
I am very comfortable and used to addressing a room full of high school boys. What I have no experience whatsoever in doing is addressing a room full of those boys’ moms. As a consequence, I stumbled over my words in expressing appreciation this afternoon for the love, support, kindness, and generosity the women of Hinsdale Central Cross Country showed to my family. Megan and I wish to thank all of you who helped make today possible. It warms our hearts to know that we are bringing a child into this world that already has so many caring people rooting for his/her success and sending so many good wishes. And who already has an extensive library of new books(!), many of them the childhood favorites of boys I coached. Our sincerest hope is for our child to grow up to be as conscientious, polite, hard-working, and friendly as every single one of the boys raised by the moms who celebrated with us today.
I saw this image recently in my social media feed. It speaks to what I most appreciate about the boys I get to coach, and especially about how grateful I am to their parents for having that privilege. It is also advice I hope to be mindful of as I begin my own life as a parent.