Gratefulness is the core character trait for the month of April. Showing gratitude is a choice. It is a choice to see things as not owed to you. It requires you adopt an attitude of gratefulness towards all you encounter.

What is Gratefulness?

Letting others know by my words and actions how they have benefited my life.

Where does the word come from?

Word etymology:  1550s, “pleasing to the mind,” also “full of gratitude, disposed to repay favors bestowed,” from obsolete adjective grate “agreeable, pleasant,” from Latin gratus “pleasing” (see grace).

Gratefulness in Action: Poland

Statue of Ronald Reagan in Poland.

Seven years after his death, Polish people erected a statue of Ronald Reagan in Warsaw to show their gratitude for Reagan’s assistance in bringing about the end of communism in Poland. At the event unveiling of the statute, former Solidarity leader and former president of Poland Lech Walesa spoke about how there would not have been a free Poland without this U.S. President’s assistance.

Driven by his own gratitude for the freedom that he had been born into, Reagan saw the vital importance of empowering the Polish people to take back their freedom. In an era of high tensions between Soviet Russia and the United States after the end of WWII, Reagan walked a fine line of avoiding war while destabilizing communist control so that it collapsed on itself. By 1990, Soviet Union backed communist control had lost its strength, and Poland peacefully transitioned into a republic.

Having lost twenty percent of its population during WWII, Poland was unable to resist the formation of a provisional pro-communist coalition government in 1947. The former resistance leaders were forced into hiding, free speech and exercise of religion were suppressed, elections were controlled, and the economy fell behind western market economies. Polish citizens began to resist, but with the Brezhnev doctrine in effect, which said the Soviet Union would counter with force any attempt by Soviet satellite states to abandon communism, they received no support from western nations.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa addresses the audience during the Ronald Reagan Centennial Gala in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2011.

In 1980 Stalin’s hard-line communism began to weaken, and the Polish people began to protest under the Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa. Reagan saw this as his opportunity to support the Polish people and ignite a flame that would end communist control of eastern Europe through the collapse of the Soviet economy. The United States directly supported the efforts by smuggling in money, supplies and equipment. When martial law was imposed a year later and many of Solidarity’s leaders were imprisoned, Reagan in his 1981 Christmas address initiated a strategy to loosen Soviet power and directly support the Polish resistance.

After the rise of communism, Reagan’s direct challenge gave hope to people. His choice to speak out kindled a courage in the Polish people to stand up for themselves and fight for freedom. They knew it would not be in vain because they had the support they needed to succeed.

In 1983, Martial law was lifted, and in 1989 partially free elections led to a landslide win for Solidarity. It was the the fatal crack in Eastern Europe’s communist foundation. In 1990, Walesa was elected president of Poland. The Communist People’s Republic of Poland again became the Republic of Poland.

The Polish people did not forget Reagan’s role in championing their cause. Twenty years later they erected a statue of Ronald Reagan to commemorate their gratitude for his support.

Quotes

Someone has said that when anyone is denied freedom, then freedom for everyone is threatened. The struggle in the world today for the hearts and minds of mankind is based on one simple question: Is man born to be free, or slave? In country after country, people have long known the answer to that question. We are free by divine right. We are the masters of our fate, and we create governments for our convenience. Those who would have it otherwise commit a crime and a sin against God and man.” – Reagan

When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty.” – Walesa

“As I say repeatedly, we owe so much to all those who supported us. Perhaps in the early years, we didn’t express enough gratitude. We were so busy introducing all the necessary economic and political reforms in our reborn country. Yet President Ronald Reagan must have realized what remarkable changes he brought to Poland, and indeed the rest of the world.” – Walesa

Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us.” – Walesa

 

Discussion Questions

  • The Polish people could had dismissed Reagan’s efforts as motivated by purely political desire to topple a United States enemy. Why was it important for Poland to show its gratitude?
  • Ronald Reagan believed he was blessed to live in a free country. In turn, he felt obligated to express his gratitude by encouraging other people to claim their freedom. What are the responsibilities of gratitude?
  • Was Reagan purely motivated by a desire to destabilize the Soviet Union? Or was that simply a means of his desire to bring peace and freedom to Eastern Europe.
  • Do people who have much to be grateful for have an obligation to show their gratitude?  
  • What is the benefit of showing gratitude? Does it help others understand the value of their actions? Does it serve to encourage others to act in positive ways?
  • How does showing gratitude benefit you? Does it help you realize the blessings in your life? Does it help you have a positive attitude?

Resources


  1. Click to read about Wisdom, the character trait of September.
  2. Click to read about Justice, the character trait of October.
  3. Click to read about Endurance, the character trait of November.
  4. Click to read about Self-Control, the character trait of December.
  5. Click to read about Love, the character trait of January.
  6. Click to read about Integrity, the character trait of February.
  7. Click to read about Determination, the character trait of April.
  8. Click to read about Humility, character trait of May.