Have you ever taken something or someone for granted? What does it actually mean to take something for granted? How does it make you feel? What do you take for granted now?
These are the questions I asked in a recent survey among a diverse group of friends and family. I conducted this survey because, in the past couple years, I have realized that I have taken much for granted. Dealing with the resulting emotions is difficult because, in my case, the remedies were not transparent. More on this later…
What Does It Mean To Take Something For Granted?
First, what does it mean to take something for granted? The literal meaning is to take something as though it were granted or “given to me”. Many people would say to take something for granted is to undervalue or under-appreciate its worth, to be ungrateful, and/or to falsely believe that someone or something will always be there. However, there is one more aspect to its definition – one must also not realize they are doing it. That’s right! Those that take for granted must also be unaware they are doing it.
It feels terrible once we become conscious of that which we were taking for granted. Unfortunately, it is usually through some sort of negative event or loss that we do become aware of it. We realize we take our health for granted when we get sick. When we visit a third world country, we are reminded of how much the developed world takes for granted. When the government announces water contamination forcing people to boil their drinking water, we realize how grateful we are for our access to basic necessities.
According to the survey, when we become aware of what we take for granted, we feel self-absorbed, wasteful, greedy, spoiled, shallow, and guilty – so much so that most of us will set a course of corrective action. With new found appreciation and humbleness, we begin to appreciate what we didn’t appreciate. We begin to value what we didn’t value. We are grateful for being able to enjoy the very thing we took for granted hopefully before it was indefinitely taken from us. This ultimately translates to a rediscovered joy in the simple things and allows us to feel like we are taking a breath for the first time. The world slows down.
And then what happens? After enough time goes by, we become distracted. Most of us start taking the very same things for granted all over again. The cycle repeats. So how do we move past this recurring cycle so that we can appreciate everything in our life? The answer lies in going past just being appreciative for things. We must become intellectually aware of the source of everything around us.
What Do You Take For Granted?
So what do we, in the developed world, take for granted? It seems as if there is so much. Survey responses were all over the map. Most responded by saying they took a loved one for granted. Another common response was political rights and freedoms – the fact that we are granted the freedom of speech and the ability to vote in free elections.
Three years ago, I would have probably responded as most people did – family, freedom, health. However, as I began to pay attention to the world outside of the mind-numbing reality TV shows and other elements of the pop culture media, I began to realize just how much I have taken for granted: clean, running water on demand, heat when I’m cold, air-conditioning when I’m hot, transportation, fuel, toilets, showers, electricity, lighting, telephones, numerous varieties of food in supermarkets and restaurants. All of these things I used without understanding or caring about their source or the effect the use of them have on other people and the environment. I used them as though they were given to me even as they were not given to the majority of people in the world.
Serious guilt consumed me. How could I live in a country with so many amenities and conveniences of life that so few others had and still take them for granted? No matter how much I tried to appreciate these things, I knew I couldn’t address this discomfort until I could become intellectually aware of them. But what does this really mean?
When you turn on the faucet and water flows from hot to cold, do you know where it comes from? Does it come from a hydro-electric dam 200 miles away or an underground well? What would you do if that source became contaminated? Is water being used at a sustainable rate?
Learning About The Source Of What We Consume
When you go to a supermarket, do you ever look around in awe of the choices we are given? Nearly every fruit or vegetable is available in every season. You can buy pineapple whole, chopped, sliced, canned, or in jars with other fruit. There are hundreds of different kinds of rice, crackers, or potato chips. You name it – it is there. But where did it come from? How was it made? And most importantly, how would you eat if one day the food wasn’t there?
To many of us, these questions may seem outrageous, perhaps even silly. Supermarkets and running faucets have been widely utilized forever, right? Actually, in 2005, only 50% of the world had indoor plumbing despite having been invented as far back as the ancient Greeks and most of the people in the world would be in awe of a super market, having never seen one before. Water heating, air conditioning, and the automobile all were widely adopted within the past 100 years; television and telephones within the past 60 years; and the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones and Google all within the past 20 years! How big of an inconvenience would it be to give up your cell phone?
The conveniences of modern-day living in the developed world are relatively new, yet how quickly people have adapted to new levels of satisfaction. We expect these things to be there. As I researched these things, I took notice of alarming world trends in population increase, rate of resource consumption, and resource scarcity. These trends pose a grave threat to the very systems we depend on for survival, the same systems most of us take for granted.
One survey response said that “taking something for granted means never having to reconsider what you understand about something — you have a view of something that is as unchangeable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.”
Well, it is time to reconsider what we understand about the resources we depend on for survival. Let’s not wait for the next disaster or crisis before we begin paying attention to the issues of our time. Let’s not wait for oil scarcity to prohibitively drive up the cost of food, gasoline, medicine and other necessities. Let’s not wait for the devastating effects of climate change to wreak havoc on our cities. Let’s stop taking the support systems of everyday life for granted. Let’s become more proactive and engaged in our understanding of the modern world. We have the resources, technology, and intelligence to solve these problems. We simply require the will and awareness to guide our behaviors towards achieving long-term global prosperity.
To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing Universe – to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that drawn nourishment from it – is a wonder beyond words.
~ Joanna Macy
We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.
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