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A Life of Generosity, Gratitude & Grace

by Ruth Gordon, LCSW

Years ago my mother used to say to me, “Gregory Peck can park his shoes under my bed at any time”. I felt the same way about Paul Newman.

Granted, I never met the man, but between his amazing good looks, generosity, talent and personal courage I do believe he was someone quite special. I have never heard or read a negative word about Paul Newman. He appeared to be down to earth, and humble to the point that he attributed his many successes to good luck.

One of the discussions I frequently have with clients is about their feelings of not being good enough. There is always a mention of someone, or several someone’s who “make” them feel inferior. This is what I have to say about that: Anyone who truly feels good about him/herself, who is comfortable in his/her own skin, would NEVER attempt to make another feel “less than”. There’s a adage I learned a long time ago — “under the arrogance lies the shame.”

What so many of us fail to realize is that regardless of our financial circumstances we always have something to give. A few weeks ago I was at Starbuck’s and the man ahead of me in line couldn’t find a dime, so I gave him one. You would have thought that I had done something amazing. It was only a dime! The man was flabbergasted and the folks behind the counter were reacting as if I had discovered a way to turn coffee beans into gold. What they were really responding to, of course, was that I had reached out a hand to help. Now, I know this isn’t like working in the refugee camps in Darfur, but we are all in a position to share the “bounty” whether it be through a phone call, a smile at the right time or a dime in a coffee shop.

There is a piece of self interest in this. When you do something that makes someone else feel good you will feel good yourself. We all have an internal meter that, like it or not, we unconsciously use to judge our own actions. When we live up to our own expectations we are rewarded with a personal feeling of satisfaction. So, when you are feeling somewhat “subhuman” as we all do at times, a simple act of kindness will boost your feeling of self-worth. It’s something we can all afford and seriously need.

Paul Newman was in the position and had the inclination to help on a large scale. Reportedly, he donated +$200,000,000 in profits from his food line to causes he believed in. By any measure, this is an extraordinary sum. Another impressive part of this is that, as a consumer, when you saw the brand “Newman’s Own”, you knew that you were buying a quality product. We don’t often find such a clear example of a win/win situation.

These are extremely difficult times. Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Lee county, where I live, has the highest foreclosure rate in Florida. Not only are people losing their homes, but one result is there are segments of our local population who are being denied the right to vote because they now cannot prove they have a Florida address.

When we encounter extreme circumstances it is a challenge to find things for which to be grateful. If you like being alive, if you have anyone who loves you, if you have health or if you’ve ever been treated with kindness and care, you will surely be able to find a reason to be thankful. Please try not to measure yourself in terms of how someone else is getting along. I know that’s hard, I struggle with that myself. The problem is that such a focus leaves us feeling either inferior or superior. In my opinion, we are neither — we’re just folks struggling to make sense of a very complicated period of time.

Even in times of tremendous stress we have the capacity to exhibit compassion and courtesy to our neighbors. I think when we do that, it reminds us that we are human and what being human demands of us in terms of our behavior. However deprived we may feel, it’s an egregious error to treat others as enemies with whom we are competing for survival. In a macro sense most of us know that we need and flourish with the assistance of others. When we bring it down to a micro level, however, we tend to forget that a wholly self-focused style of living is unrealistic and will defeat us, in some way, in the long run.

Often, no matter how hard we try, we have no control over the circumstances that come our way. We always have control over our own behavior. No one makes us behave with cruelty, thoughtlessness, greediness or dishonesty. When it comes to our conduct, we must take responsibility for our own.

Paul Newman was a great role model. It is now up to us to demonstrate, in the way we live our lives, how we believe the world should be.

Ruth Gordon is licensed clinical social worker in both Massachusetts and Florida. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory. This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

4 Responses to “A Life of Generosity, Gratitude & Grace”

  1. Rita Says:

    Thank you. I have reviewed all of the articles in this segment and felt compelled to respond too yours. Maybe, because of the Newman affect, or the fact, you live in Fl and Ma, something my partner and I have discussed. I enjoyed the article as a reminder to me. I have accomplished most goals set in my life, yet find myself as many others starting over again. I am very grateful for the air I breath (even the smog), I can feel, see, touch and think. My plight is the inability too practice here in Fl.

  2. charles b.e.k intsiful Says:

    what really makes us do something for others , when we are also in need of something. thx for ur motivitional words…

  3. chelsea Says:

    I really like this article, it teaches one how to be thankful for what we have, instead of realizing and noticing all the things we don’t have. That was a nice thing you did at the coffee shop. My psychology teacher tought me about behavioral approach, and I was wondering, when you learned about behavioral approach, did you disagree with sigmund’s theory? Or did you think about it and realize what he was saying was true? Now I know humanistic and behavioral approaches are absolutely different, but what are your opinions about these two approaches? Thank you for your time, your a fantastic writer and I appreciate what you have written. Have a caring, loving, greatful day.

  4. farouk Says:

    yeah its true, those who devalue others only do it in order to feel more worthy

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