The Hermenuetics of Gratitude
Earlier this fall I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an extravagant afternoon drinking tea with Jeremy Shapiro. Dr. Shapiro served as the chair of my dissertation committee and continues to be a mentor, role model and dear friend. Though he is a gifted scholar, well-regarded philosopher and early English language translator of Jürgen Habermas’ work, I was drawn to work with him because of his humility, endless curiosity and delightful sense of humor. I sought him out during my doctoral program orientation when, after a long line of faculty had introduced themselves by reciting their long (and somewhat intimidating) list of research interests and scholarly accomplishments, Jeremy stepped up to the microphone, and introduced himself very differently by saying, “Students tell me that I am useful to them in the following ways . . .“ At that moment I knew this was the person I wanted to work with. Many educators talk about and aspire to be student-centered; Jeremy achieves it in all of the ways he has shown up to now hundreds of graduate students over his career.
The Hermeneutics of Gratitude
During our rare, uninterrupted tea together I couldn’t help but tell him again how much he had impacted and influenced my own work—how I can only aspire to his level of generosity and presence with students. He was characteristically humble, and was ready to change the topic, reminding me that I had more than once expressed my gratitude in the past. I acknowledged that I had, and also realized out loud that I had a need to practice something that on the spot I termed “the hermeneutics of gratitude.”
Rooted in the early scholarly study of religious texts, the word “hermeneutic” is derived from the winged messenger Hermes, of Greek mythology, who carried (and interpreted) the decisions of the gods to other gods and humans. It is to this that the Greekhermeneuenin(to interpret) refers. The purpose of original interpretation of religious texts was intended “to establish normative religious and legal practices” (Slattery, 1996, p. 7). The practice of hermeneutics evolved and was extended by Martin Heidegger, the first to develop and name a philosophy of hermeneutic phenomenology, believed that all human experience is intrinsically interpretive.
Hereneutics also holds that the interpretation of a text or experience is highly situational, and may evolve over time based on the context of the interpreter. I realized that this is the reason I am so compelled to cycle back to my gratitude for Jeremy, and for many others who have impacted and influenced my life; from new vantage points I have new appreciation for the gifts of the experience. This is true for me of Jeremy and the space he created for me during my doctoral adventure. I am still learning from the ways he showed up and created space for me.
In this season of giving and receiving, I invite you to practice your own version of the hermeneutics of gratitude and revisit the people and experiences that have helped you become your best self. You may discover even more gifts as your reflect from today’s vantage point, which also gives you a wonderful excuse to express your gratitude and keep the cycle of giving flowing.
Slattery, P. (1996).Hermeneutics: A phenomenological aesthetic reflection.Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association.