The Gratitude Emissary

The Gratitude Emissary

For Walter Green, a retired entrepreneur who resettled in California from the New York City area, the concept of giving thanks is not limited to one day a year. Many Jews, in their daily prayers or meditations, make a point of showing gratitude.
This is especially relevant at the time of the High Holy Days, when Jews pray for another year of health and give thanks for the past year. Green recently spent a year traveling to the homes of people across the United States, old friends and mentors who had helped him during various stages of his life. President of his Jewish fraternity in college, he went to thank the special people in person. His personal pilgrimage became public in “This Is the Moment: How One Man’s Yearlong Journey Captured the Power of Extraordinary Gratitude” (Hay House).

Q: How did you get the idea of spending a year thanking people who had contributed to your life?

A: The first major factor was the death of my father when I was a teenager. This left an indelible impression on me that life is short, precious and unpredictable. I have developed over many years a process of thinking about current activities in the context of ideal long-term outcomes, which had me reading books about what is most important to people when confronting life-ending illnesses. Finally, I was touched by the extraordinary eulogies delivered at the funeral of [former “Meet the Press” host] Tim Russert — Tim would never hear them.

Being Jewish influenced both the organizations I was affiliated with and the people with whom I associated; it should not be surprising that many on my journey of gratitude were Jewish. The message resonates at a very deep level with them. I just came home from an event during which I shared the story of “This Is the Moment”; one of the women, with tears in her eyes, comes up to me and said she felt farklempt [choked with emotion].

How did you choose the people you would visit on your mission of thanks?

I took out a pad of paper. I reflected on my life and when someone had been important to me; I wrote that person’s name at the top of the sheet. I asked myself, “What difference did this person really make in my life?” It was clear, after completing this very simple exercise, who had to be included on my journey of gratitude.

Why didn’t you just send everyone a note or nice gift?

I wanted the pleasure to be with them in person and to have the benefit of a dialogue. I audio recorded the conversation and as a memento of the event wrote a one-page letter highlighting what I had said and gave them a CD of our conversation. In essence, I wanted to say it and then “save it” so it can be savored for years to come. A gift that is a material possession would not communicate the explicit message of gratitude no matter how expensive or beautiful it was.

How much did the sojourn cost you, and what did you gain?

Since I chose to visit these people in person I did incur travel costs. Even with these expenses, without a doubt there is nothing I have done in my personal and business lives that the rewards were so much greater than the costs. The benefits of communicating this gratitude were priceless. It enhanced these special relationships, enriched my life and gave me peace of mind knowing that I will never have any regrets in the future for things left unsaid to these important people.

Were people — especially those you had not seen in a long time — suspicious of your motives for suddenly contacting them?

Their initial reaction was unanimously, “Are you OK?” In our society, it is a conversation that rarely takes place unless someone is very sick and or dying. Once I reassured them, they were honored and looked forward to the visit.

Has your story influenced other people to follow your example, to thank you or other influential people in their lives?

With the publication of my book and my speaking and media opportunities, I know I have already touched thousands of lives. I have heard many stories already of multiple copies being bought by those who read the book for friends, colleagues, family and others. I was told about someone I do not know, who bought 200 copies for his family, friends and employees.

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