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Gratitude is Diplomatic Force in Dampening the Worst of Human Nature

Several holidays have fallen on Concurrent column days such as Veterans Day, Halloween and now Thanksgiving. This isn’t going to be just another column about what I’m thankful for or what we should all be thankful for. But it is going to be about gratitude because I think it's easy to overlook its importance.

For the Halloween column, I wrote that I was dressing up as a radical before launching into an argument that Prosperity Citrus may not be going far enough to help others. What I really feel like though isn’t a radical at all. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is arguably the most notable work of 19th century author Robert Louis Stevenson, although Treasure Island competes for the top spot as well. I’m sure the tale is familiar to you but Henry Jekyll is a respectable doctor in his 50s who is at first able to control his transformations into the violent Edward Hyde. These become involuntary - first in his sleep and then eventually during the day as well.

This is an apt analogy starting with the fact that Dr. Jekyll was the nice version of the same person. At the University of Tampa where I work and where I am most often referred to as Dr. Winsler, I am not as vocal when in opposition to ideas that come up. I certainly don’t circulate a weekly newsletter of aired grievances, which is how I’m sure some view the Concurrent. In other words, I’m the nice guy.

Then Mr. Hyde comes out when I return to Citrus. The level of decorum in writing vanishes and the brutish approach of the bully pulpit shines through. I can feel the difference in the approach I take in each community. A question I’ve long wondered, though, is why.

Maybe it has to do with which community I really care about. If I felt the same affection for Citrus as I have for UT, the institution where I earned my undergraduate degree, then maybe I would be more inclined to practice more diplomacy.

Maybe it’s a lack of gratitude. The hierarchy of UT is clearly defined. It’s easy to be humble to those who are more accomplished and demonstrate humility to those who are just starting out. Thankfulness, rather than criticism, toward others would lessen the darker parts of the Citrus Mr. Hyde’s personality.

The true difference that explains the split personalities is a concept called self-efficacy. This can most closely be described as self-confidence but it’s more distinct than that. Self-efficacy is one’s perceived belief in their ability to execute behaviors to enact meaningful change.

The most common visual metaphor to describe self-efficacy is a kitten looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of a lion. I have a stronger self-efficacy in Citrus. My chances of enacting change are higher among the Citrus decision makers and general public than they are around the faculty of UT. The other professors are already enacting meaningful change in the lives of their students, I know, I was one ten years ago.

The author Stevenson, whose unmatched ability to capture conflicted human nature (especially the evil) is shown in the classic cook character Long John Silver, has Dr. Jekyll successfully combat transformations into Mr. Hyde through engaging in philanthropic work.

I love this detail. He fights his personal urges through service to something larger than himself. The instant he believes himself to be a good person, however, is the same moment he experiences the first daytime metamorphosis.

This is what derails my self-efficacy theory. When I reflect on character with a high self-efficacy, I see a lion in the mirror which is essentially what the Mr. Hyde character is to Dr. Jekyll.

It’s not always a bad thing. But it can be curbed a bit in the spirit of coalition building within a community. The blunting force is gratitude. There’s much to be thankful for in Citrus from the hard work of others in public affairs to the selflessness of the members of the community.

This realization reminds me of a great scene from the movie Steve Jobs written by my favorite screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Jobs is exhibiting his own Mr. Hyde moment having just scolded Steve Wozniak and Woz, for the first time, fires back.

“It’s not binary,” the famed engineer says. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”

This decency begins with gratitude for others. Happy Thanksgiving Citrus County.


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