A young man went to apply for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the initial interview and now he was about to meet the director for his final interview. The director discovered from his resume that the youth’s academic achievements were excellent.
He asked, “Did you obtain any scholarships in school?”
The young man answered “No”.
“Was it your father who paid for your school fees?”
“My father passed away when I was one year old. It was my mother who paid for my school fees.” he replied.
“Where did your mother work?”
The young man said, “My mother worked as a clothes cleaner.”
The director asked the job applicant to show him his hands. The applicant showed that his hands were smooth and perfect. So the director asked, “Have you ever helped your mother wash the clothes?”
“Never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books. Besides, my mother can wash clothes faster than me.” said the young man.
The director said, “I have a request. When you go home today, go and clean your mother’s hands, and then see me tomorrow morning.”
The young man felt that his chance of landing the job was high. When he went back home, he asked his mother to let him clean her hands. His mother felt strange, but with mixed feelings, she showed her hands to her son.
The young man cleaned his mother’s hands slowly, with tears dripping down his face. It was the first time he noticed that his mother’s hands were so wrinkled and so covered in bruises. Some bruises were so painful that his mother winced when he touched them.
This was the first time the young man realized that it was this pair of hands that washed clothes every day to pay for his education. After cleaning his mother’s hands, the young man quietly washed all the remaining clothes for his mother. That night, the mother and son talked for a very long time.
The next morning, the young and eager job applicant went to the director’s office. The director noticed the tears in the applicant’s eyes when he asked, “Can you tell me what you learned at your house yesterday?”
The young man answered, “I cleaned my mother’s hands and I finished cleaning all the remaining clothes. I know now what appreciation is. Without my mother, I would not be who I am today. By helping my mother, I not only realized how difficult it is to get something done on your own, but I also have come to appreciate the importance and value of helping other people.”
The director said, “This is what I am looking for in a manager. I want to recruit a person who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the sufferings of others to get things done, and a person who would not put money as his only goal in life. You are hired!”
Gratitude is not just a nice-to-have feeling. It’s a must-have for a purposeful and fulfilling life. We all have parents, and chances are, we could be doing more to repay their gratitude. Our parents may not have worn out hands like the mother in the story, but they’ve certainly gone through their fair share of hardship in raising us. Just like the young man in the story, many of us are oblivious to so much of our parents’ contributions and sacrifices for us.
Here are some examples to ponder:
- Mother carrying us around in her tummy for 9 months and having to endure a lot of discomfort, yet still looking forward to the day we are born.
- Mother enduring the pain of childbirth, and then right after, her first thought is, “Is my child healthy?”
- Parents tending to us 24/7 when we were infants, using their hearts to feel our needs whenever we cried, feeding us and changing our diapers. Despite being exhausted, they did this with love in their hearts.
- Parents dedicating so much thought, energy, money, and planning for our lives.
- Parents sacrificing their freedom and sleep for us.
- Parents being so happy to see us grow and mature.
- Parents always wanting the best for us and giving us the best they can give.
When we reflect on how much our parents gave to us, we should feel a sense of gratitude and warmth, and then we naturally feel the desire to repay gratitude.
It’s kind of like if a friend gives us a gift, we’d be happy and naturally feel compelled to give them a gift in return. Repaying favor is a natural human sentiment. When we focus on our parents’ gratitude, we will naturally want to repay gratitude. There are four broad ways to so:
- Nurture parents’ physical health: make sure their body is healthy
- Nurture parents’ emotional health: ease their worries and give them happiness
- Nurture parents’ aspirations: fulfill their wishes and ambitions for us
- Nurture parents’ wisdom: helping parents to grow as a person
When we repay gratitude, we are making our parents healthier and happier. When we see our loved ones healthy and happy, we will be happy too.
“When taught filial piety, people will respect all parents in the world. When taught siblinghood, people will respect all siblings in the world.”
(Original Text: 教以孝，所以敬天下之為人父者也。教以悌，所以敬天下之為人兄者也。)
Note: Filial piety means having a heart of love, respect, and gratitude towards parents. Siblinghood is the same but towards siblings.
When we can feel the care and gratitude of our family, it’s easy to extend that feeling to other people outside the family. If you think about it, society is kind of like a big family. At school, our teachers are similar to our parents, and our classmates are similar to our siblings. At work, our leaders are similar to our parents, and our colleagues are similar to our siblings. Our leaders take care of us, and we repay gratitude by being harmonious with colleagues, easing our leaders’ worries, and working towards their aspirations.
In order to teach filial piety, parents ideally would to role model respect and gratitude towards grandparents. The family should frequently do nice things for the grandparents. After all, children don’t do what you tell them to do, children copy your actions. It’s also important to not spoil children and make them think they are the king or queen of the world. The father can tell the children about how much the mother contributes and how hard the mother works, and urge the children to be filial to mom. The mom can do the same for dad.
Even if our parents didn’t role model filial piety for us, we shouldn’t blame them because chances are, no one role modeled it for them, and no one taught them either. They still tried their best for us, and now we need to try our best for them. That means starting with us, we set a good role model for them and for the future generations.
Gratitude is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have for a purposeful, meaningful, and productive life. It also helps us to persevere through hardship. The best place to start digging our inner fountain of gratitude is towards the under-appreciated heroes in our lives.