Each morning in each of the Grades classrooms, student and teacher meet at the classroom door, and they clasp hands in a firm handshake. Their eyes meet and the teacher will sincerely greet the student. At the end of the day the ritual is repeated; the teacher will say goodbye, sometimes offering encouragement or a reminder for the next day. They are each a witness to each other, affirming each other’s worth. As they pass the door’s threshold, all the children know that they count; that they are not invisible in a sea of children in the classroom, or abandoned to the outside world. Orland Bishop, the extraordinary counselor and community leader explains that this is expressed in the Zulu language as, "Sawubona" (we see you), and then acknowledged as, "Yabo Sawubona" (yes, we see you). Once this affirmation is made, it opens a space for freedom to express and investigate inner capacities that could not otherwise be possible. In street vernacular, the absence of “Sawubona” might be expressed as “dissing” the other.
How easily expressions of gratitude can erode in our cynical society: a sideways glance perhaps by an older child, during the younger’s expression of gratitude; a rushed or mumbled grace before a meal; the absence of modeled manners in children and parents alike; or a glib text message (Thnx! 10Q! J <<3) instead of the almost-extinct opportunity to sincerely thank someone with one’s eyes. How can we model gratitude for our children if we ourselves are too busy to practice it?
One of our greatest pleasures is to be reunited once a year with family and friends in the tradition of Thanksgiving. In some households the celebration may be cramped by Norman-Rockwellian expectations, from perfectly browned turkeys and clever napkin folding to over-the-river-and-through-the-woods imagery, distracting from or skirting the gratitude part of the equation. Pass the stuffing, please. In a tryptophan stupor after the guests have left, exhausted and flopped on the sofa, one wonders what feels missing. The unpracticed expression of gratitude might have caught in the throat or been co-opted by a wise-guy cousin, offering the obligatory blessing in which he sarcastically intones, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub,” much to the giddy delight of the younger ones. How do we re-calculate such disappointments?
We might not have a re-do for another calendar year, but we can begin now, before the holiday, to find small ways, even with the very young child, to identify and express gratitude. These opportunities every day, in every small way, build an atmosphere where it is not difficult to enter a state in which gratitude and sincere acknowledgement can live.
“An immense enrichment of the soul is achieved through the experience of feeling gratitude,” Rudolf Steiner said. “One should see to it that, even in a very young child, a feeling of thankfulness is developed. If one does this, a feeling of gratitude will be transformed into love when the child is older.
“In every situation in life, love will be colored through, permeated with gratitude. Even a superficial observation of social life demonstrates that a valuable impulse for the social question can be fostered when we educate people towards a greater feeling of gratitude for what their fellow human beings are doing. For this feeling of gratitude is a bridge from one human soul and heart to another. Without gratitude, this bridge could never be built.” (Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy 2; Lectures by Rudolf Steiner 1922-24)
Whether it is from one human being to another, “for the golden corn and the apples on the trees, for the golden butter and the honey from the bees,” or for this bounty which we are about to receive, the expression of acknowledgement and gratitude will send transformative waves outward to affirm the human spirit and all the goodness in the universe.