This week, Diana Butler Bass (@DianaButlerBass), historian and author of the new book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Grace, joined Ana (@anamariecox). Diana’s new book proved the starting point for their conversation, as she spoke about the difficulty of writing a book on gratitude during the first 100 days of the Trump Administration. It was so difficult that she asked her publisher about changing the book’s topic, only to be talked back into writing about gratitude, for which she soon developed a strategy despite the ongoing developments in the Administration.
“What I did for those 100 days was, I would literally wake up, I’d see all that stuff [on Twitter], and then I’d say to myself, ok what is one thing that I’m grateful for today?” Diana said.
That led to a longer conversation about making gratitude a part of one’s broader spiritual practice, as Ana shared the way that prayer has helped with her 12-step program. They also talked about the ways that gratitude can help people lead better, happier lives, and what the routinized practice of gratitude did for Diana. It helped her to get through the first 100 days, and deal with some of her anger and frustration with President Trump.
“Somehow, I was more resilient, I was more grounded, and my anger level had receded,” she explained.
She also talked about one of the things she learned in writing the book: that two separate opinion polls in November 2015 found that, although 78% of Americans felt grateful for something each week, the Americans who went to the polls in 2016 were more fearful and anxious than ever before.
That informed how Diana wrote her book, as she sought to do “a gratitude intervention on our social and political life.”
At the same time, she acknowledged her own privilege and its importance in the unique political moment we live in.
“I realized the last thing the world needed was another gratitude book written by a privileged white lady,” she said.
To do that, she wrote about moments of difficulty in her own personal life, including her #MeToo moment, among others. That decision led Ana to push her, because as she herself has experienced with this show, moments of difficulty as experienced by someone who looks like Ana or Diana are different than anything experienced by a person of color or a trans person. Diana acknowledged the potential problems in sharing her own stories, and explained her desire to use her stories to sit at the same table as those who have experienced injustice and oppression without privileging her own experience.
Ana then asked whether the practice of gratitude ought to involve giving thanks for the privilege people have been given, which Diana dismissed immediately, because true gratitude has no room for hierarchies of power, and is instead about dismantling systems of privilege. She went on to explain that finding true gratitude involves eliminating the quid pro quo structure that is often included in conversations about gratitude. That quid pro quo reinforces systems of power and oppression, like that utilized by Christian slave owners in Antebellum America. The kind of gratitude Diana sought to promote in the book was that practiced by slaves themselves, who managed to find gratitude and joy and give thanks despite everything inflicted upon them.
“I’m affirming the joy and what I’ve learned from studying this subject and from letting myself hear the voices of gratitude that came out of these other communities. I’m not trying to appropriate it at all, that’s not what’s happening in the book,” she explained.
She continued that train of thought to dive into what true gratitude is about: giving freely to someone out of thanks, rather than because a transactional process of gift-giving required a reciprocal gift.
Ana talked about living that gratitude in her own 12-step program, and using acts of gratitude to stave off feelings of selfishness or insecurity.
“Like all good math problems, you can turn it around. You can actually perform yourself into a place of gratitude,” she said.
Performing one’s way into that place can happen through something as small as being polite to the people working behind a counter. As Diana noted, those actions run up against the kind of debt-and-duty gratitude practiced by the President when it comes to the UCLA Basketball Team, the Nobel Peace Prize, ISIS, and much more.
“It’s fascinating to see this deep need that he has for people to express thanks to him. That’s the negative piece that we’re living in right now,” Diana said.
The conversation ended with a call to action of sorts, to follow the example of people like Colin Kaepernick and Parker Molloy rather than Donald Trump, and be grateful for whatever gifts you’ve been given and use them to make life better for others without asking for anything in return.
You can find Diana’s book here: http://dianabutlerbass.com/books/grateful-the-transformative-power-of-giving-thanks/
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