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The Word of the Day Challenge is gratitude.

Passage from Robert Heinlein’s book, Stranger in a Strange Land, on the topic of gratitude:

Sit back down—and for God’s sake quit trying to be as nasty as I am; you don’t have my years of practice. Now let me get something straight: you are not in my debt. You can’t be. Impossible—because I never do anything I don’t want to do. Nor does anyone, but in my case I am always aware of it. So please don’t invent a debt that does not exist, or before you know it you will be trying to feel gratitude—and that is the treacherous first step downward to complete moral degradation. You grok that? Or don’t you?”

Jill bit her lip, then grinned. “I’m not sure I know what ‘grok’ means.”

“Nor do I. But I intend to go on taking lessons from Mike until I do. But I was speaking dead seriously. ‘Gratitude’ is a euphemism for resentment. Resentment from most people I do not mind—but from pretty little girls it is distasteful to me.”

“Why, Jubal, I don’t resent you—that’s silly.”

“I hope you don’t… but you certainly will if you don’t root out of your mind this delusion that you are indebted to me. The Japanese have five different ways to say ‘thank you’—and every one of them translates literally as resentment, in various degrees. Would that English had the same built-in honesty on this point! Instead, English is capable of defining sentiments that the human nervous system is quite incapable of experiencing. ‘Gratitude,’ for example.”

“Jubal, you’re a cynical old man. I do feel grateful to you and I shall go on feeling grateful.”

“And you are a sentimental young girl. That makes us a perfect complementary pair. Hmm… let’s run over to Atlantic City for a weekend of illicit debauchery, just us two.”

“Why, Jubal!”

“You see how deep your gratitude goes when I attempt to draw on it?”

“Oh. I’m ready. How soon do we leave?”

“Hummph! We should have left forty years ago…


I read this book close to 40 years ago, and at the time my only takeaway from the passage was that gratitude translated to resentment. Looking at it today, it strikes me in a much different way. If a person does a kindness for another person, if the receiver were to feel an obligation to return a favor, perhaps if they didn’t find an opportunity to return it, their own guilt may make them feel guilty, and guilt might turn to resentment. Alternately, if the giver was giving with reciprocation expected as part of the motivation for giving,(e.g. politicians) if the receiver chose not to reciprocate, then it might likewise turn into resentment. IF, however, the giver and the receiver are pure-minded, there is no thought of reciprocation. Gratitude can be given and received in pure spirit, which can bring great joy to one or both.

gentle acts, giving,

receptive hearts receiving

boundless gratitude


4 Comments Add yours

  1. cagedunn says:

    I’d like to live in a world where there were no obligations, no expectations … I dream, of course. And advertising makes sure we understand the guilt of not feeling it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sadje says:

    A wonderful post. I think the only guilt free, and expectation free gratitude is that which we express towards God.


    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you. It took a long time to reconcile this reality for myself and only with a lot of help.


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