By Abe Villarreal
At the end of a month-long training period for students at my local university, a simple closing ceremony activity opened my eyes to how much I am grateful for in life.
A dozen college students had gathered daily for several hours to train on leadership as they prepared to introduce new students to university life. Most of the trainees only knew each other as acquaintances and were nervous on day one.
They eyed each other up and down and tried to figure out if they would like each other or at least tolerate one another during the summer month. Meeting new people is scary and being rejected can be devastating.
As the group participated in collaborative activities and in brainstorming sessions, they began to discover what they had in common and what made each other different. From their hometowns to their upbringing, a kaleidoscope of colors emerged, representing a diversity of experiences and personal beliefs.
Their distinctions, big and small, are things that today make us separate so easily. Big city guys don’t get the small town fellas, and vice versa. Expressions like you be you, and you don’t know me are part of the daily vernacular.
On the last day of training, the lead facilitator asked the group to gather in what she called a gratitude circle. It’s the kind of thing that sounds and feels corny because it’s not cool to share emotions anymore. Everyone is strong and to show our weakness is taboo.
I joined the circle and looked on as the first student was brave enough to stand in the middle to listen as others shared their gratitude. Surrounded by her peers, one student at a time spoke. Some mentioned how surprised they were to get along with the student in the middle. Others shared their initial fears of one another, saying things like “I thought you were mean at first but once I got to know you…”.
For over two-hours, nothing but gratitude was shared. Some cried, but most of us laughed, remembering the funny moments in training, collaborating, fumbling, and discovering. We not only learned about each other but we realized truths about ourselves.
Participating in this thankful-filled circle demonstrated in a raw and powerful way that the students continued to be as different as they were on the first day, and simultaneously were more alike, had a stronger connection, and in many ways were very much the same.
I like this thing called a gratitude circle because it forces us to say things to each other that for some reason we are afraid to say, and yet deep down inside we know are true. Gratitude is more than a feeling, it is an action, an outward expression of appreciation.
What is the value of being grateful for someone else when only you know it?
As we began to complete the circle, I realized that I gained a lot more from telling others how grateful I was about them than I did from hearing from others how grateful they were for me.
When it comes to gratitude, the reaction is much greater than the action.