Why would we deny a favor done to us? In earlier posts I wrote about trying to shirk responsibility, feeling everything is our right and thinking the world revolves around us. Another reason is that we don’t want to feel indebted. When someone does me a good turn that means I’m going to have to acknowledge it and say thank you. This requires me to have a certain degree of submission. I’d prefer not having to carry around this subtle feeling of “I owe you one.” We see for example how a child will sometimes grab the candy that’s offered him and run off without a “thank you.”
Chevruta (study partner) learning: It’s an important aspect of child-rearing to privilege children with the awareness that saying “thank you” is worthwhile for his own sake as opposed to forcing the child to say “thank you.”
I asked my study partner: How did you help your children develop this awareness? What did you do when your child didn’t want to say “thank you” or “sorry”?
Her answer, as usual was very wise. She would tell them to say it and if they were emotionally unable to say it right now she would act as her child’s “agent” and say to the other child in earshot of her own child, “I’m sorry he can’t say thank you right now…” The parent can also model this behavior in his or her own relationships.
Sometimes people confuse submission with humiliation. Humiliation squashes you and submission – when it’s submission to what’s right – frees you.
Back to the book: But even submission is not something we accept willingly. We’d rather ignore the favor and pretend it didn’t happen. Deny it. The Hebrew expression for ingratitude is kefiyat tova, which literally means putting a “cover” over good that’s received. Out of sight – out of mind.
Chevruta contemplations: There is a relationship between the concept of gratitude and essential worthiness. In the Temple days when a sacrificial sin offering was brought, it was symbolic of the world of pure justice that could potentially have been our world, had strict justice not been tempered with compassion at the time of creation. From the perspective of strict justice the sinner would not be worthy of existence.
Yet it’s not only a sin offering that strikes at the heart of worthiness. Another kind of offering was a thanks offering. The assumption of worthiness comes into question when I am obliged to give thanks.
I wonder whether the sin offering brought after childbirth is not also somehow related to this. It is called a sin offering even though there is no apparent sin in question. We might suggest that since the pain of childbirth brings the woman to focus on her own suffering and not on her appreciation of the gift of a child, she has to face her essential incapacity to give adequate thanks. Built into motherhood is a tension between seeing the big picture and the trials we have to cope with as mothers.
In short, as uncomfortable as it is, it’s important to contemplate all of the good we receive and articulate it.