Concept Exchange Society
Wednesday, December 11, 1996 6:30 pm
At Glenn Johnston's House.
Presentation: Roberto Skinner
The Philosophy of Gratitude
I would like to read from "The Stress of Life" by Hans Selye. Followed by a discussion on the philosophy of gratitude.
At the October meeting someone asked, "How can you stop your mind from racing?" I would like to address this question with a little meditation instruction.
If we have time left, I would like to introduce the salon format of an open discussion with the theme, "What have you been thinking or obsessing about?"
REPORT ON THE MEETING
The Philosophy of Gratitude
Glenn was, once again, the gracious host to our community of concept exchangers. There
were ten of us present: Roberto, Jeff, Roger, Rachel, David, Don, Marc, Meredyth,
Glenn and Marvin.
Roberto began his presentation with an announcement.
He has been inducted into the
Drag Racing Hall of Fame. The honor came because of his achievements dating thirty
years back. In the 1960's he designed and built the best drag racing vehicle for
that time. He did it in his backyard garage. It held the world record; traveling 1/4 mile from
dead stop in 7.2 seconds. We all take great pride in his fame.
In this presentation Roberto introduced a new format into our procedings: a group
reading from a manuscript. He provided each of us with 20 xeroxed pages (p.282 to
302) from the book, "The Stress of Life" by Hans Selye (1966, edition, originally
published in 1950). He suggested that we read it round robin - one page aloud each person in
As a preface to the reading Roberto gave us some insights into his motivation for
choosing the text.
He devotes part of each year to work on a nutrition project in
Mexico. There he finds himself with people "who have little but seem to lead more
Says Roberto, "A wealthy person is one who is satisfied with what he has." Wanting
more does not bring happiness.
(Interjection by our merry wag, Roger, "From TV it's clear there's a lot of stuff
I should be wanting.")
Since Roberto is deeply disturbed by the violence, poverty, misery and war he finds
around him he was receptive to the 'positive' outlook expressed in Selye's book.That
was Roberto's explanation for choosing the book.
We began the reading.
Selye's 'philosophy of gratitude' became quickly clear. It amounts to an instruction
on how people should govern themselves - a moral commandment: Act so as to inspire
gratitude in others.
Selye bases his dictum on what he considers a profound insight - his premise. That
one single basic motivation alone underlies everyones behavior: egotism - the drive to
awe other people.
Scientists, mathematicians, artists - their essential motivation is prizes and recognition.
Well, then, concludes Selye, since everyone strives to awe others, why not do it
in a good way rather than a bad one? Let's act so as to inspire gratitude.
what Selye says.
To act so as to "incite gratitude in others" (p.290) is admittedly more charming than
to incite other effects. Say loathing. Anger. Fear. Or contempt. Or indifference.
But to govern oneself solely by the approval of others is not a very spiritual undertaking!
What is spiritual is to 'feel gratitude', not to seek it
Said Meredyth, " 'To incite gratitude' is an exercise of the ego. It is selfish.
gratitude is without ego."
But, Selye believes you can't escape ego. That is his very premise. "We cannot avoid
being egotists", he says (p.290). He discounts the other motivations for behavior
- the spiritual ones:
to make succulent sounds called music,
to dance whether others see it or not,
to pursue the intricacies of mathematics drawn by its compelling beauty, curiosity,
to explore - terrestrial domains or intellectual ones,
to construct visual fantasies,
to skii well . . .
all done best when done without ego.
A man who perceives the world as Selye does - as pure ego - could not reach a spiritual
conclusion. He is not a spiritual person.
But remarkably, his phrase "philosophy of gratitude" has an appealingly spiritual
ring - if we invert Selye's ideas about gratitude.
Instead of inspiring gratitude in others
, one may strive to put himself into a state of gratitude.
It cannot fail to bring serenity and balance to ones life.
Such a personal philosophy is embodied in the dictum, "Count your blessings." It means
to rejoice in what one has; in the gift of life, of air to breath and moments of
laughter - rather than in bemoaning what one lacks.
It is, in fact, Roberto's philosophy of "A wealthy person is one who is satisfied
with what he has."
Roberto's philosophy is Selye's inverted!
Evidently the student is wiser than the teacher.
But the helix of meaning didn't end there.
Roger brought us all a gift. At the meeting's
end he distributed copies of a 21 page article by Richard Preston entitled, "The
Mountains Of Pi". It appeared in the March 2, 1992 issue of the New Yorker magazine.
Roger did it because he wanted us to share his delight in this piece. And, indeed,
it is a savory work of art. A literary gem.
It is about the very eccentric brothers Chudnovsky who had built a supercomputer in
their apartment in a building on the West Side of Manhattan. Their machine rivalled
the best commercial supercomputers in the world. The brothers are recognized among
their peers to be leading mathematicians. These men used their machine to produce over
two billion digits in the decimal expansion for pi. The first six digits are 3.14159.
They perceived these digits as a terrain to be explored. They were looking for patterns
in the seeming chaos of integers. Few others, if any, see the beauty in this pursuit
that the Chudnovskys do.
On page 289 Selye exhorts, "Why should we be ashamed to plan our lives so as to earn
approval and gratitude?"
The Chudnovskys would indeed be ashamed.
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© m chester 1996 Occidental CA