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Gratefulness doesn’t end at Disney, or begin at a homeless shelter

January 6, 2015

DisneyI’ll be upfront and tell you that I am overly sensitive about a lot of things, but especially these two: Disney World, and helping people less fortunate than me. When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money. We were never destitute by any means, but things were tight, and things that weren’t necessary to life (Cable TV, air conditioning other than a box fan in your open window, and expensive junk food like Gushers fruit snacks) were just that—not necessary. But you will never once hear me complain about my childhood or say I lacked in anything.

As we got older things were more stable financially, and though we were never rich by American or “keeping up with the Jones” standards, we were more comfortable. When my brother and I were in middle school my parents had saved enough money to take us to Disney World. This was big. This was amazing. It was instantly our favorite place to go as a family. We’re a very British clan of folks. We don’t gush and ooh and aww over things. We don’t cry (publicly) from happiness. And we DON’T squeal with delight. But we all loved Disney. Loved it.

Later this month my husband and I will go to Disney World, and I’m so excited I could spit. But just like when you buy a car and suddenly see that same car everywhere, I’m lately seeing posts about Disney World everywhere online. It usually falls into four categories:

  1. We’re going to Disney and can’t wait!
  2. We can’t afford Disney, but wish we could!
  3. We’re never going to Disney because it’s too expensive and teaches children that they’re entitled to that sort of lifestyle.
  4. We don’t even like Disney and are above such frivolous things.

I’m obviously part of the first one, and I won’t even address numbers 2 and 4. I’m here to write about number 3. Let me just put it all out there in one succinct sentence:

Disney World is not making your child a spoiled, ungrateful person any more than visiting a homeless shelter will make them a wonderful, grateful person.

My husband and I work for a rescue mission. Everyone who comes to the mission is homeless for one reason or another. Many of them stay for just a few days, and others stay to participate in the program we offer that is aimed at helping them break the cycle of homelessness. Being part of a ministry like a rescue mission means that you see all types of people. From people who have hit rock bottom, to people who are breaking glass ceilings and then building mansions on clouds because of all their worldly success.

Every once in a while people who are somewhere between the bottom of the pit and the mansion in the sky tell us they’d like to bring a child, a youth group, or someone they’re mentoring to the mission. They want to show them the homeless shelter so they can see firsthand just how blessed they are. They being the person they’re bringing—not the people at the mission.

This is hard for us. On the one hand, yes, we need to all be aware of our blessings. Even the poorest people in this country are most often wealthy compared to the vast majority of the world. But if someone believes that a single trip to a homeless shelter will undo a lifetime of entitlement, then they are gravely mistaken about how a human works. That’s not to say a single experience can’t change a person’s attitude. I believe if a seed is already planted, then one experience can certainly be the tipping point that changes an attitude.

But if you’re bringing someone to a homeless shelter, just to parade the less fortunate in front of them, and make them feel guilty, then your motives are wrong.

And if you’re refusing to go to Disney World, while continuing to live a lifestyle that spoils and teaches ungratefulness, then your child will be ungrateful. Disney World is not making your child ungrateful. You are.

Right now you might be thinking, “Um, you don’t have kids. What do you know about teaching them gratefulness and moderation?”

Well, here’s the thing. I—like every other human—was once a child. My parents said no to me when I wanted things but didn’t need them or they couldn’t afford them. I’m talking from personal experience as a child who was taught to be grateful, while still visiting Disney World. We event went more than once!

Don’t get me wrong—I realize that a lot of people don’t go to Disney World because, despite their best efforts, their children still struggle with being grateful. My point is this: Gratefulness is an attitude and lifestyle that must be taught in all parts of life, not just during vacation. An awareness of how blessed we are should not just be taught by pointing out the homeless and saying “you should be glad you aren’t as bad off as THAT guy!”

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help the homeless in your area, or how to work with a local homeless ministry with your kids, let me know. And if you’d like more information about my trip to Disney World, then sit down because we’re going to be here a while.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lil Paulio permalink
    January 6, 2015 4:56 pm

    Appreciated this. I think about similar things working with Service Groups through the year, and helping them process why they are visiting.

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