TAS Voices: Thoughts on Gratitude

By Lindsey Kundel, Director of Communications 

When I was a freshman in high school – well before I received my driving permit – I was lucky enough to have a few good friends who would often offer to take me home from school, from marching band-away events, or from late mock trial practice. (Yes, I was just that cool.) One evening, however, right before I opened the car door to walk down my driveway, my friend asked me to stop for a second.  

“Lindsey,” he said, “I’m not sure if you know this, but you’ve never once thanked me for taking you home.” 

I was mortified, of course. All good Iowa girls know their p’s and q’s. So, what did I do, as a novice mock trial lawyer? I started arguing with him. 

“Huh? What do you mean? Of course, I have.” 

But I knew him, and I also knew he wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true – if he hadn’t been listening for and waiting for any sign of gratitude over the last few weeks. 

This isn’t a very flattering anecdotal self-portrait of my 14-year-old self. I tell it to our TAS community because, at least in my case, the adage about learning things the hard way has been very true for me personally. I did not demonstrate gratitude, even when I felt it, or when I hope that I felt it (because memory is a fickle thing, indeed.) My lack of gratitude led to an uncomfortable moment with a friend, someone for whom I was very grateful. It also led to an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection and self-recognition. What did this say about the type of person that I was? Was I an ungrateful girl? Was I a bad person? 

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about decoupling moments of failure from a description of self. I can, have, and will continue to have moments of failure – but it doesn’t mean that I AM a failure. 

I am now, several decades removed, extremely grateful that he called me out on this, just as I was also grateful for his kindness in taking me home from all of these after-school events.  

So why am I sharing this difficult moment of ingratitude with you? 

Because I want all members of our community to experience and help others experience these difficult learning moments, too. 

I do not believe that gratitude is something we are born with. Our nature as human beings – as animals – wants us to be selfish: to find resources, procreate, and keep ourselves and our families safe in a challenging environment. We aren’t “born” to think and reflect on the things, people, or moments in our lives that we cherish and are happy to have had.  

But I also genuinely believe that cultivating gratitude through a growth mindset is the first step on the road to kindness. We need to be able to recognize and appreciate kindness that others have done to us before we can understand why we might want to show others that same form of courtesy. 

My request this fall – and not as a result of an externalized Thanksgiving spirit where we claim gratitude for a multitude of things simply because we are told to because of a holiday – is for us to do what we can to encourage others to show more gratitude by calling them out when they do not show it, with both kindness and curiosity.

I'm not sure why this is such a novel concept.

Before joining the advancement team, I was a teacher for nearly 12 years.  In mathematics class, when a teacher is helping a student learn a new concept, he or she would do a disservice to the student if they do not correct and demonstrate to them their errors within a problem. As a former English and journalism teacher, if I did not correct my students’ grammatical errors, I would passively encourage them to continue writing in that erroneous way. Teachers and students know that critical feedback spurs growth – and yet, when it comes to helping people be better human beings, we often shy away. 

As a community, we don’t need to hire outside gratitude teachers or wellness coaches; we all are teachers of this important discipline. We all have learned what gratitude looks and feels like because we also equally know what ingratitude looks and feels like. Please, have the difficult conversations this fall with fellow students, employees, parents, and alumni. Every difficult conversation is food for thought, and it's food that last far beyond this holiday season. 

Those are the learning moments that are much longer lasting, and more meaningful than anything I could have offered my students in my time as a teacher. We don’t need to just teach our students the humanities as a subject based on books because all of us have the ability to impact another’s humanity. 

To my dear high school friend, thank you for your rides home and your companionship, but thank you even more for the imprinted memory and the life lesson. To my 14-year-old self, thank you for being willing to listen in the long-run and not be afraid to occasionally fail at being a good person - because in recognizing your failure, you are able to improve.