One of the oldest stories about gratitude in human history is the story of the lion and the mouse. It was first written down by Aesop, a slave in ancient Greece who lived in the 5th Century BCE, but the story likely existed in the oral tradition for hundreds of years before that. Very little is known about Aesop himself because his writing was translated and circulated so rapidly that the original text remains uncertain. Aesop’s fables had a power that transcended the storyteller. They have been rewritten many times in every era and have circulated the globe, translated into every language and given new content as they move from culture to culture. If you study Aesop’s fables, you will likely recognize their plots in modern movies. The transcendent power of these stories comes from their subject: Gratitude.
In the Lion and the Mouse, a hungry lion captures a mouse and prepares to eat her. “Please, please, please don’t eat me,” said the mouse pleading for her life. The lion, distracted holds a conversation with her. “Why should I let you go? What’s in it for me?” asks the Lion.
The mouse argues that if she is allowed to live, she will feel gratitude for the lion, and find a way to repay him. How could a creature so small ever repay a lion? What could such a feeble creature have to offer that a lion doesn’t already possess thanks to his strength and power? Nothing.
But the lion is inexplicably moved by the mouse- There is no way that lion can benefit from letting the mouse go, but that is exactly what he does. Why? There is nothing to gain, in fact the lion has lost something, a meal, and now he is even hungrier. So what motivated him to let the mouse go? Greater than a force and domination, he was motivated by the power of Gratitude. The king of the jungle, pleased with his life, his feeling of gratitude caused him to spare the mouse’s life, allowing him to pass on his gratitude and give the little creature a sense of how he feels, blessed, powerful, and uplifted.
Now the mouse will live her life in gratitude, thinking constantly of the lion, feeling blessed and uplifted, searching everywhere for the chance to repay the lion. Will she be able to? Probably not- but the feeling of gratitude makes us want to offer our skills, it helps us understand that we can positively contribute to any situation, even if it is just in a small way. The fact that we feel confident enough in our own power to look for opportunities to contribute is enough.
And though an incredible longshot, the opportunity does come along! The lion is caught by hunters in a net, and will surely die, but along comes the little mouse and sees his plight. The lion’s act of altruism, which seemed to have no benefit at the time, inspired gratitude in the mouse. The mouse calls to her friends and family, and a hundred mice emerge from the forest to chew through the net and free the lion. So it is revealed that the mouse did have a secret power beyond that of the lion.
Life is full of turmoil and events we cannot predict. How much of our life do we spend predicting disaster? There will always be events in life that we haven’t prepared for, that we haven’t seen coming. But there is unexpected good as well. Everyone has power of some kind, living in gratitude means claiming your power and uplifting others to claim their own. Gratitude becomes a network of positive interdependency, and good things materialize from nowhere. Gratitude is a philosophy of mutuality, when you believe in others who might not believe in themselves, they reveal their power and look for an opportunity to thank you. When you look for altruistic opportunities to do good with no reward for yourself, others look for opportunities to lift you up.