Thursday, March 14, 2013


"How good and glad it is to be grateful! The joy is not merely that we have received a favour or a little kindness which speaks of the goodwill and love, but that a beautiful thing has come out of some other person's beautiful heart for us; .... We lose this joy often enough because we are too self-absorbed to be aware of kindness, or are too self-complacent to think any kindness more that our desert." Ourselves :Charlotte Mason p. 108.
"... Appreciation, whose business it is to weigh and consider, duly and delicately, the merits, the fine qualities, of a person, a country, a cause, of a book or a picture. .... It is so good and pleasant to notice a trait of unselfishness here, of delicacy there, of honour elsewhere; to observe and treasure the records of the beauty of perfectness in any man's work, whether the work be a great poem or the sweeping of a room. It is a happy thing to discriminate peculiar beauties in another country and find traits of character that differ from our own in people of another nationality. Life has no greater joy-giver than Appreciation, and though this Appreciation is the due of others, and our duty towards them, we get more than we give, for there is no purer pleasure than that of seeing the good in everything, the beauty in everyone." Ourselves : Charlotte Mason p. 148.
These words written so long ago, are about practices and attitudes which are rarely thought about today. If we use words such as being "glad", "grateful", "joy", "kindness", "goodwill", we possibly have a different idea in mind to what the quote intends. Words like "self-absorbed" and "self-complacent", are more familiar because we experience and know about these. Here is an indicator of both how far we have shifted in mind attitudes, and also of where we should head, in order to come away from the current brain, body and relationship damage we live amongst. We need to learn to appreciate and offer gratitude.
In his book, "Thrilled to Death", Archibald Hart says that appreciation is the foundation for gratitude, because you can't feel gratitude for someone you don't appreciate. Here is the core of where we are going wrong, why we rarely sense the joy described by Charlotte Mason in the quote above. So learning to appreciate is the place to start.
To be honest most days I get through the day and hardly have a memory of the things I need to remember, let alone having "weighed and considered", "noticed", "observed" or "discriminated" the finer qualities of people around me. Proof that I'm "too self-absorbed to be aware of" worthwhile things and people in my life.  And I can't expect anything different in my family if I don't change my ways first.
There are numbers of books that give helpful methods to learn how to appreciate your life, the people in it and even difficult situations. One book is Ann Voskamp's, "One Thousand Gifts". It trains us to stop in our busyness and recognise that a simple object and a common situation, have something worth giving time to and thinking carefully about. I found beauty, intricacy, and things I'd not noticed, which led to thoughts I'd not considered before. For me it was finding the profound in the familiar. 
When a person is oblivious they don't know what they are missing.
~ Hints to Help Children Learn Appreciation ~
  * Learning appreciation is all about moving one's mind off self and onto someone or something else.
  * How aware are your children of their surroundings? Begin here. Get them to look and therefore give them a curiosity and appreciation for the weeds, plants, trees, grass, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, clouds and sky both day and night, waterways, mountains, rocks..... just outside the window. Our ignorance of what's close at hand breeds hollowness of mind.
  * Appreciation can only be learnt through finding it oneself - so telling a child how much they should appreciate XYZ is useless. This is where bringing an ever widening world into your child's life is crucial, through  books, movies and people from other generations and cultures. Here is where a child discovers ways of life that are different to their own.
  * The learning of appreciation involves cultivating a tenderness in our mind and heart towards others. This is why it is essential that children have generous experiences with people in need in all senses of the word, as well as being taught to think on people, no matter who they are, with value and suitable respect.
  * Archibald Hart and Ann Voskamp agree that practice is fundamental. Hart says you need to daily practice appreciation. Voskamp encourages you to list everything you are appreciative for until you reach one thousand, and then go on to two thousand. They are clearly right, as a one-off attempt at appreciating does not bring change to a character or mindset.
Gratitude "serves as a major buffer, when regularly practiced, to many mental illnesses. It is also a major player in fostering authentic happiness." says Hart. Backed by studies, he also says that teenagers and young adults who practice gratitude, have higher "levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy, compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison..."
Gratitude springs from thankfulness, that someone has been kind to us, helped us, often to their cost. So our gratitude needs to go beyond a thought, it needs to be expressed. Hart says, "speaking about it helps to reinforce the gratitude in your brain and sends it far and wide throughout your nervous system." 
Mason speaks both of gratitude and appreciation, as obligations that we owe to one another as fellow humans. 
~ Hints to Help Children Learn Gratitude ~
  * Building a gratitude attitude in your children starts by chatting regularly about the many things as a family, you can be grateful for.
  * Communicating gratitude may be spoken, expressed through our face - a glance, warm smile, soft and kind eyes, a wink, it can be in a touch or in many other forms. The important thing is it must come from the heart, so can not be rehearsed. Then it "will fill the person who has done us a kindness with pleasure." says Charlotte Mason.
  * As in appreciation, gratitude must be frequently practiced to become a habit, "watching for opportunities" and developing "a good memory and a quick eye to see where" gratitude is due.("Ourselves":Charlotte Mason)
Learning gratitude is rather like learning to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. "If your attitude is right and your perspective healthy, it takes very little to make you content." says Hart. 
"....for a glorious day, for a face of a little child, for happy work, for pleasant places. According to the saying of Jeremy Taylor, he is quick to 'taste the deliciousness of his employment'. He is thankful for all the good that comes to him. The poor soul who believes that life yields him nothing beyond his deserts, that it would be, in fact, impossible to give him more than he pays for, whether in coin or merit, is to be pitied for all the joys he loses, as well as blamed for the pain and irritation his progress through life must cause. 
'Yea, a joyful and a pleasant thing it is to be thankful!'." Ourselves:Charlotte Mason p. 111.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ where will YOU start. Wherever it is, remember you're teaching your kids to "observe and treasure" not the  flamboyant and thrilling, but the heart-felt simple, common experiences that happen everyday.

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