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COMMENTARY: Gratitude can soften sucker-punches

"It felt like sucker-punch," my friend confided. She was recounting the story from her third person perspective between two people, who were acquaintances. Person X asked, "How much did you pay?" Person Y answered, and immediately Person X shrugged,

"It felt like a sucker-punch," my friend confided. She was recounting the story from her third person perspective between two people, who were acquaintances. 

Person X asked, "How much did you pay?" Person Y answered, and immediately Person X shrugged, shook her head with a tone of disgust, and said, "Ach. I should have gone. If I had been there, I would have "Jewed" the guy down." 

Person X could have said, "I would have tried to get a lower price," or "I would have tried for a better bargain," but instead she used a hurtful expression that is offensive under any circumstances, worse if you happen to be the child of Holocaust survivors, as is my friend. 

My friend was so shocked that she silently walked away, biking home with a heart that felt whacked with disappointment. Her family stories are full of pride and gratitude, and over the years, she has told me about her parents and relatives, some who perished at the hands of the Nazis and others who suffered the indignities of discrimination and extreme hardship.

Like many people of Jewish heritage, she has worked hard to reconcile the trauma, the losses, and humiliation of a campaign of waged discrimination by sticking to the high road, finding solace in her feelings of profound appreciation. In this modern moment, Person X may have had no idea she was speaking to a woman of Jewish descent. That's not the point, though.

Whether Person X used the expression in ignorance or with a heart that has been intentionally hardened and calcified, our words carry power and we must each accept individual responsibility as we try to build bridges, not wedges.

As we talked about her lingering sadness, she re-visited the conversation and how she would like to tell Person X, "The word is not a verb." 

I told her, maybe I could help to relay the message. Right here, right now – if you want to talk about getting the best price for any purchase, use your thesaurus and choose a word like barter, bargain, negotiate, or haggle. It's human nature to try to maximize the value of every transaction and get the best deal possible. 

Another story of a "sucker punch" was shared by a friendly physician who works in an emergency department. She is working hard, treats every patient who arrives in emergency as best she can, starting with their history, including recent vaccinations. Sometimes the patient explains why they have not yet gone for their COVID-19 vaccine and justify that for any one of several reasons, the now-sick person did not consider it a priority. 

"And that," the doctor says, "is a sucker punch to my heart. It feels like a complete slap in my face! Here I am, trying so hard to help others, using the best equipment, techniques and information that science can offer and they can't find the time to get a vaccine." 

People who are making significant personal sacrifices, putting their health at risk, paying for their children to go to the dayhome for extended hours, who are committed to their teammates and colleagues who understand the importance of public health are resisting the urge to shout: "This is a pandemic, people! Each one of us needs to make it a priority to think about all of us!'" Or maybe they are shouting, but it is so noisy that we cannot hear them over the din.

As we consider and gain appreciation for the things we value, each of us can realize that: Those of us who care about the rest of us can try harder to think, act, and speak in ways that are kinder and more considerate for all of us.

Lorraine's debut book: An Ecology of Gratitude: Writing your way to what matters is due to launch Oct. 31, 2021. To pre-order your copy, or to invite her for a presentation, contact: lorraine@grassrootsgratitude.ca. Or follow her on Instagram: lorraine_widmer_carson