The Benefit of Feeling Gratitude toward People You Never Knew

Here is a question for you:What inventions have most impacted your everyday life?

The thought of this reminded me of the emotional boost received by displaying gratitude. Usually, however, we don’t think of the debt we owe to strangers — those inventors who became historical figures.

The truth is, all of us profit beyond the possibility of knowing or listing every benefactor.

For myself, I’d give a shout-out to Thomas Edison, the fellow who created the “talking machine.Without it, I might not have fallen in love with classical music from listening to recordings at a friend’s house at 16.

There were no musicians in my family, no suggestion of taking up an instrument. My folks owned one small radio for listening to news or sporting events. Yet, because of Edison and my buddy, I lucked out.

Another impactful invention was the practical typewriter and its successor, the word processor. Thus, I must type the names of Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Rob Barnaby, respectively.

Why the machines they created?

The only educational advice I received from my parents, beyond their wish I attend college, came from my dad.

Take typing in high school,” he said, a skill now called keyboarding.

Though I didn’t become a high-speed typist, I used the device to compose published research in psychology, well over two thousand psychological reports, and newspaper articles on music and baseball.
 
As you know, blogs too.
 
 
If you think of who you owe appreciation to and you’re my age, perhaps you shall come up with Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first polio vaccine, and Albert Bruce Sabin, who gave us its replacement, an oral version. I knew people felled by the affliction, an ever-present terror in every community when I was a boy.

We ride highways uncelebrated others built, and unsung legislators voted to fund. The list of things and people who deserve our thanks, some of them living, is an endless one.

Suppose you had strep throat as a child. In that case, you might not recognize that without the 20th century’s arrival of antibiotics, you may have died, along with your children and grandchildren’s possibility of existence. 

We are all, in some fashion, statistical lives at best. Does anyone know Salk or Sabine saved him? Many without the vaccine didn’t get sick. It is hard to be grateful for the avoidance of disaster when millions of others also escaped it.
 
We, too, are just as nameless to our many beneficiaries as those distant or departed benefactors are to us. Nor do most of us know the names of our brave family members of several generations back who worked to enable better lives for those who would succeed them.

We are the ones who didn’t get a disease prevented by the genius and dedication of others. We are the ones who drive cars we weren’t the first to imagine, use recipes of ingenious chefs, and drink clean water — if we are lucky and because we are lucky. 
 
Nor did the videos we enjoy emerge out of the air or the superb images created by the finest photographers and other visual artists. Did you invent the first computer?
 
We are not self-made. Instead, we are the people who too often take for granted all the things done for us even before we arrived on the planet. I mean you no disrespect. I do this, too, and it comes to us without thinking.

The average man in the industrialized world of 1900 lived about 50 years. You will probably live longer because of some of those in the history books.

In a world of too many harms, I hope you find a moment to remind yourself of the other side of the equation — those who helped you without awareness of your presence.

They can do you one more favor now:  think of them and speak to their memory a quiet, “Thank you.
 
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The two images offered above are courtesy of Laura Hedien, a magnificent and generous artist/photographer: Laura Hedien Official Website.
 
The first is an Arizona Sunset, South of Tucson, in Late July 2020. The second is an Alaska Road Sign, 2021.