When did a thank you become a request instead of an automatic response to someone giving us something or showing an act of kindness? Have we become so accustomed to receiving that we take for granted the every day work of others?
And how is this played out in our families, with kids showing no appreciation for the blessed lives they lead?
I think the only time I ever hear a thank you in my household is at the dinner table (after prodding for a response to “mmmm, sure tastes good!”) or when I bring home a surprise gift, but that usually ends in a complaint that it was the wrong one somehow.
I have been astounded in the last couple of weeks by the sad response of the high schoolers in writing their teachers Thank You cards. Since I have taken on the Hospitality Chair of our PTO, I thought it would be a nice gesture to buy a bunch of thank you cards and sit at lunch every day for 2 weeks in order to have students come up and sign a card, and then deliver them to the teacher’s mailboxes today. (Not exactly my idea of a great time in the middle of my days, but at least I get to see Sam – not that she would even acknowledge my existence, but that is a different blog entry!)
My first eye-opener was when a girl came up to ask about one of our community service programs and discuss her earning hours. After the discussion, I gestured to the thank you cards laying out on the table and asked her if she would like to write a card to a special teacher for Thanksgiving. Without any hesitation, she looked straight at me, and asked, “do I get service hours if I write a card?” –Did your jaw just drop?- I have to say, I was too stunned to answer her and she ended up just walking away from the table.
What I wanted to say was: WHAT??? Are you kidding me? In order for you to say thank you to a teacher that gives of their time, money, and knowledge to enable you to complete your education, you have to be BRIBED to say a simple thank you?????
My continual eye-opener has been the amount of students that, when asked if they want to write a quick thank you card to a special teacher or administrator, they respond by saying they don’t have any special teachers!!
OH YEA! I forgot!! You’ve gotten to this place in your life ALL BY YOURSELF!! Are you joking??
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all in vain. There were many girls and a few guys that were quite excited at the idea of thanking their teachers that have been influential in their lives. And it brightened my day to see the smiles on their faces as they thought out each perfect word as they were writing.
So this experience got me wondering about the idea of saying thank you and how the act of saying those words (or the lack of them) affects both the people in our lives as well as our own lives.
During this “Thankful” season, it was interesting that I found a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, analyzed by Professional Counselor Steven Lucas in his article “Saying Thank You is No Longer Just Good Manners”, which was conducted in order to see how gratitude affects both the person saying thank you and the motivation it gives to the other person to keep providing help. Lucas gives a very informative and interesting analysis, and I would encourage you to take the time to read his article at: CounselingCentral.com.
Although I love to make connections and enjoy the study of human behavior, I am definitely NOT a psychologist (yet having a family of psychologists is a pretty good education!), but I completely understand how saying thank you somehow connects people together. Feeling valued and worthy encourages us to keep giving, keep helping and in fact, inspires us to thank the people that help and give so much to us. And so continues the act of saying thank you.
So where has the “attitude of gratitude” gone? Is it still around or has it slipped away along with so many foundational characteristics taught to us by our parents or family? Will it be one of those things that we only notice when it’s gone? I hope not.
Teaching my children to be considerate, appreciative, and thankful has to truly be done explicitly. I have to assume that they will just mimic my behavior or say “thank you” out of obligation, instead of a sincere feeling of gratitude, which only comes from understanding the true worth of effort.
I must remember that taking them to places where they can volunteer their time and help others will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Teaching them to earn what they want instead of just receiving without having done any work will, in time, help create more thankful attitudes and a gracious heart toward other’s needs.
And although I want my children to grow up with a feeling of social worth and be intrinsically motivated to put others before themselves, I also live in reality and can always hope and pray that a little bit of ideal can sneak its way into our family.
And may even be met with a THANK YOU someday.