01/14/2014 12:01 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2014

Gratitude Not Included

There was a recent discussion over on SoulPancake regarding gratitude and the needy. Some people were expressing frustration over the fact that they've gone out of their way to volunteer their time to help these people, and all they received in return were complaints.

The common consensus was: "That sucks; beggars can't be choosers."

I'd like to challenge that by saying: Yes, they can be choosers.

There was a time when I was very involved with the evangelical church, and during that time,
we would work in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I loved it, and it's one of the things
I wish I had more time for now because I miss it. However, at first, I went in with a very typical,
naïve, and unintentionally arrogant attitude. I assumed (as many of us do) that these people
would be all smiles and sing our praises because of the help we offered. This was not always the case -- I learned this lesson when one woman threw away the scarf I gave her, saying she hated green.

There were two things I learned very quickly when it came to working with people in need:

1. Never do anything expecting gratitude or recognition.
2. Being down and out does not mean a person gives up his or her opinions and preferences.

Before we get all ruffled about our work being unappreciated, perhaps it's best to examine our motives for why we are doing this work in the first place. Are you helping others because
you're hoping for some sort of financial, material, or emotional payoff? Or are you helping
others because you feel it's the right and good thing to do? And in that case, is an expression of gratitude really all that important?

Sure, a thank you is always nice, but it should never be something that is expected or required
in order to give a helping hand. I find it a bit alarming that so many people use their sense of
"charity" as a means to berate and lord over others. That's not how it's supposed to go.

I wonder if a lot of this has to do with our self-absorbed culture. Acts of kindness and generosity seem to be ego boosters. But doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of selfless giving? Life is difficult enough without attaching strings to our kindness.

John Bunyan's words come to mind: "You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."

I think that includes a word of thanks.

When was the last time you gave without expecting anything in return?