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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Is Ghana A Thankfulness Deficit Nation?


In Ghana, attitudes on thankfulness are shoddy because some Ghanaians have developed self-induced amnesia.

Why are so many Ghanaians ungrateful, with a very selective short memory span?

It’s believed that “feeling grateful is a complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness and development”. So where did we go wrong? Why do we have thankfulness deficit?

Gratitude has been called by philosophers as “the most pleasant of virtues and virtuous of pleasure”. And, psychologies are uncovering many benefits of systematic cultivation of gratitude, from emotional well-being to enhanced physical health. This day and age, there is an urgent need for moral ,religious and psychological atonement among Ghanaians(particularly Ghanaian immigrants in the Diaspora) by rediscovering the feeling and expression of gratitude because the culture of entitlement is killing our sense of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is even rooted in the Bible. One could assume that since majority of Ghanaians are Christians, we would find this as spontaneous impulse to express gratitude so easily. But, if you’re looking for gratitude you can’t count on Ghanaians. We are too busy to stop and savor wonderful things and people in our everyday lives. In other words, we have persuaded our consciousness to look only on the dark side of things with negativity without giving any room for negotiation. It’s not a coincidence that we tend to remember only a few good things people do for us when we’re climbing the socio-economic ladder. What happened to the rest of our memories?

I got an e-mail from a friend in Britain, complaining bitterly about how he helped his two siblings in Ghana to migrate to Britain and they ended up disrespecting him because he refused to give in to their demands and tried to keep them on track. They refused to speak to him ever since. There is another e-mail from my regular reader ,some where in the east coast of the States, whose generosity to help his fellow Ghanaians was compensated with vengeance ,resentment and innuendos and character- assassination . How did we get from being thoughtful and thankful people to insatiable ingrates?

The fact of the matter is Ghanaians have shrewdly and conveniently developed self-induced amnesia to cover up their ungratefulness .And; I’m not touching on your religious sentimentality. I’m talking about everyday life’s experiences. When was the last time you heard from the person you have helped? When was the last time you paid a tribute to your Good Samaritan? There is a need to balance your resentment, achievement and atonement.

To a point, Ghanaians in general have a well-earned reputation for being ungrateful, forgetful, and unappreciative of others’ goodwill. But it seems the Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora in particular are notoriously the worst kinds when it comes to being very ungrateful and unappreciative. Stories abound. Every Ghanaian immigrant has a pile of horror stories about trying to do good to his or her fellow country man or woman, relatives, spouse or friends which earned him or her more ire or jeers than cheers. The funny ones are told at social events and funeral parlors; the more terrible ones are reserved on the hard drive of the memory archives for future reference.

Why so many of us have developed self-induced amnesia? Is it the so-called “good life” in our host countries or the pressure from back home that is pushing us and causing the sudden explosion which has punctured relationships and fractured friendships beyond repair? Or have we developed self-induced amnesia disease that permeates among those of us in the Diaspora—that makes us forget and dislodge from our memories of the goodwill of people who came to our aid when all hope lost?

Ask one hundred Ghanaian immigrants in the Diaspora at random about the Ghanaians they have helped in one way or another and chances are ninety –five percent will have tales that will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Go further and ask those second generation immigrants who migrated to their host countries through the help of loved ones, friends, relatives or acquaintances. Find out if they still keep in touch with them and if not ask why not. Their answers will shock you and make you whimper. The goodwill they received from the loved ones has been stored in the short- memory archive or in the sand so as to make it easier for even small storm to blow it away, with no sign of regrets. How sad!

In other words one’s generosity, goodwill or kindness has been “reciprocated” with vengeance, innuendoes bad–mouthing and hatred. Some of the tales are so gruesome and inhuman that some people decline to discuss it. The recipients of goodwill have developed self-induced amnesia that has forced them not to recollect anything worthwhile about the people who helped them. Ghanaians have a short - selective memory span indeed and that is sad.

I think it’s always best to have a true gracious relationship with people whom we have enjoyed their goodness, kindness or generosity .Ghanaians, more than any other group of people do not do that. If we have a falling out with individuals who have done us big favors or rescued us from any predicament ;we sever all relations with them and immediately engage in self-induced amnesia and insinuations against them.

But, there is no Ghanaian soul in the Diaspora or Ghana who can not recollect the name of at least, one person who has played a meaningful role to make one’s empty dreams fly with tangible wings. Do you ever wonder where you could have been without a push or a helping hand from this individual? What makes you forget so soon? Is it the good- living or money? Or have you been suddenly attacked by amnesia or just realized that his or her usefulness has been dissipated? Amazing!!

Once upon a time most of us were plagued by poverty and the deficit of material things. Therefore, you would think that we should be overdosed with the spirit of thankfulness; not so. We are too busy –chasing money --to stop and reflect on our circumstances and triumphant.

I can not be sure what is causing the change in attitude about thankfulness. But it is consistent with patterns everywhere you see Ghanaians.

Money clearly has a big effect on the mind, just as it has a big effect on attitude, health, education and almost everything else. It gives us some sense of false security that we don’t need anyone, especially those who have helped us in the difficult times--- anymore, now that we are comfortable to take care of our needs. The more money one has the less thankful he becomes. It’s often true because once our income and economic status increase, our sense of thankfulness goes down remarkably.

Yes, I know it sounds very paradoxical and goes against common logic to talk about thankfulness or graciousness in this day and age when our faith has been pushed to the limit and our goals in life are very blurred and fogged, that we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.

Indeed, it’s also very hard to be thankful when every thing is going well for us. But, sometimes life is more than numbers.

There is no better time or place to talk about gratitude than now because we have to look at the total picture of life. Being grateful or appreciative doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have any life challenges and tribulations or resentment. Thankfulness means you’re able to appreciate your conditions and remember those who made that possible for you. Maintaining a gratitude journal or being able to recognize the wonderful things you have experienced in your everyday life is a very important element of your happiness and helps you to realize why you are on this troubled planet.

Oh no, you don’t owe anyone a thing, but purposely undervaluing one’s kindness or generosity speaks more about your own limitations and shortcomings than anything else.

Yes, I can be very evangelical about this belief because it even has some biblical component to it. Do you remember the story of Jesus questioning the reason why only one out of many came back to thank him after he had restored their sights? (I bet they were Ghanaians!!)Why should that matter to Jesus--- a man without an ounce of bitterness or the need for a reward? The point is there is something unique and important about showing thankfulness even in the days of Jesus. Hallelujah!!

Having gratitude about life in general —not just some part of it—has a therapeutic effect on you. In fact, the emotional and physical benefits of having a grateful lifestyle are beyond measure. In other words, it is emotional and physical enhancer to be thankful. For example, when you’re grateful for your health you take good care of it by eating the right food and exercising. When you are grateful for having an item or a possession or a relationship, you try to value it and treat it with care. By doing that your emotional health is enhanced. It fuels happiness and physical health.

However, human nature being what it is, we tend to have an entitlement mentality, which prevents us from seeing the good side of anything in life. It is impossible to be thankful for being a recipient of someone’s blessing or goodwill when you feel that you’re entitled to it. You can not be appreciative when you have the mindset that you deserve something and therefore it’s your birth right to get it, regardless of how you look at it.

The question is why some people have all the fun, live in houses stocked with all the life amenities than they need and so many live in none? Why some kids have so many toys than they need when some have nothing? Come on folks, some of us have more than enough of something. For others it maybe time, iTune downloads or clothes, or IPod, Iphone or Ipad or the latest model vehicle, yet we don’t appreciate what life has to offer and the people who made all that possible. Have you ever thought of that?

The type of things those of us who have the chance to experience the trimmings of the western culture take for granted, for example---an access to the internet-- are out of reach for millions across Ghana. These people many are poor and can’t afford computer. Sometimes there is no access to one or the nearest Internet Café is 20-30 miles away. Yet they still have a reason to be thankful to people and appreciative of what life has offered them.

The emotional component of showing thankfulness is increasingly so high that once we decide not to do it we automatically lose sight of the total picture of life and its possibilities.

Whether you are in absolute comfort or in despair, it’s still important not to forget the little help you got from others. Forget about the little hiccups. Sometimes, we need a little rain in our lives to appreciate the sunshine when the sun comes out. In other words, it’s only that when we can take good with the bad that we can see the value of life and ultimately appreciate it. Trying to find reasons to be cheerful and thoughtful before and after the dark is the best we can hope for or do at this time.

For your own mental and physical equilibrium, sing the hosanna when ever you can to those who have played a meaningful role in your own socio—economic equation.

There is not so much to lose anymore. So carry on and give credit where credit is due and sing hosanna and make an effort to sprinkle some natural sweetener of graciousness and thankfulness on people who have helped you one way or another. It is a smart thing to do.

For one thing we all have issues to deal with. And you surely do not want to trade yours with someone else’s. So live simply, love graciously and care deeply. Speak kindly about your blessings and leave the rest to Mother Nature.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (Voice Of Reason)
*The author is a social commentator, the founder of the Adu-Gyamfi Disadvantaged Youth Empowerment and Educational foundation at Asuom, Akim.