Are Gratitude and Worthiness Conflicting Values?


Not all values are created equal. Or rather, not all values  have equal importance in our lives. But how can we tell which ones matter most to us – and what do we do if there’s a conflict? How do we choose between two really great ideas?

I’ve found that a great way to discover what values really matter to you – not just which ones you think should matter – is to take a close look at which values you’re passing on to your children. (If you don’t have children, I suppose you’re limited to judging your daily actions and spending habits.) This is also a great way to spot value conflicts. Case in point: my struggle to raise kids with healthy self esteems who are not entitled buttheads.

Before my son was born, I made a conscious decision that I would raise my kids to know they were loved immensely by lots and lots of people. I  make no secret about the fact that my own sense of worthiness is fragile at best. I am constantly working to strengthen the internal belief that I am enough, and I was hoping to remove that struggle from my children’s future.

I value self esteem.

In this area, I can say without a doubt that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. My children excel at esteem. They love themselves and assume any and everyone loves them as well. They are, they are certain, absolutely fabulous just the way they are. Not only are they sure that they are loved, but they know for a fact that they deserve that love.

Parenting win.

However, that idea that they deserve everything good in life is constantly bumping up against another treasured value of mine: gratitude.

Yes, they say please and thank you with very little reminding, but they also don’t hesitate to ask, ask, and ask for more. Their appreciation for all that life – and I – have given them seems fleeting. While it’s very likely that this is a sign of their age and emotional maturity, it is also, I think, a sign of my own struggle to reconcile these two beliefs for myself. I’m certain my frustration with their ungrateful tendencies is definitely a sign of my own internal conflict.

In other words, I don’t know how to tell myself I am worthy and deserving while maintaining humility and gratitude.

My gratitude seems to often come in the form of groveling and Wayne’s World “I’m not worthy” declarations. It’s the form I’m most comfortable with and it feels much more noble than declarations of worthiness. When I pull myself up to my full height and declare that I deserve something, I feel arrogant. I fear arrogance.

Deserving seems painfully close to entitled, a trait I am loathe to either claim or pass on to the next generation.

I do not want to teach my kids to grovel, but I do want them to be truly grateful for what they have. I don’t want them to take generosity for granted, but I want them to know that they are worthy of just as much goodness as anyone else. And I want that balance for myself.

I know that a balance between these two values is possible. My friend Becky exemplifies this balance perfectly. I have never met a more genuinely confident nor sincerely grateful person. I see her do it, but I’m not entirely sure how she does it.

Can humility and confidence co-exist? If so, how?

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