Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Series 1 of 3: Thank you Thank you

Welcome to the blog.  I am going to do something new over the next few posts - I am going to serialize!  Amazing, huh.  Appropriately enough, as we are all eagerly awaiting the upcoming vacation, I will be talking about thanks.  Today, however, I will be taking a convoluted approach and addressing how we receive thanks, leaving the giving to next time. 
A few years ago, I was an NPR fiend.  I tuned in on my morning drive to school and again when I was on my way home.  The radio was dissatisfying at the time - I hated the commercials, and still do (thanks Pandora app) - and I found solace in the informative voices on syndicated NPR brought to me by KUHF.  I loved All Things Considered and Morning Edition; the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keilor inspired me, and Engines of Ingenuity tickled the grey matter.
One afternoon, as I was exiting I-45 for I-10 on the long trek to Cypress, the anchors did  a “letters” piece.  One of the letters called our attention to a previous interview.  At the end of the interview, when the host was thanking the interviewee (whose name was apparently not important enough for me to remember), the interviewee replied with “you’re welcome.”  This struck a particularly potent nerve with the letter writer, who commented on the fact that most people respond with a “thank you” of their own instead of the expected “you’re welcome.”
I have noticed myself doing the exact same thing.  When someone offers their thanks, I don’t accept it, turning the thanks right back around, sending it scurrying back.  I had a particularly awkward encounter with this recently and it got me thinking.  Why do we do this?  What drives us to not accept the thanks of others and instead offer thanks of our own?
In reference to myself, I feel that it is a combination of things.  First, and the better of my  reasons, is that I genuinely feel thanks for something the other person has done.  Their thanks and my thanks are equal.  Lately, when I truly feel this way, I have striven to say you’re welcome first.  I feel that this completes their thank you instead of leaving it open ended.  I acknowledge their thanks, and then offer my own.
The second reason, which I constantly combat, is my ego.  The ego feels that it’s job is to place us above others, to make sure we are always seen in the best light, to present the strongest front, to never look weak.  Why would thanks ever be in conflict with any of this?  Ego doesn’t want to appear part of any group - it prefers to appear above the group, in charge, dominating.  It distorts the concept of “in it, but not of it” to “not in it, but above it.”  By accepting thanks, our ego senses that we have built a connection with the other, placing us on par with them.
Ego also deters the use of “you’re welcome” to set up some sort of debt.  By helping someone, and repaying their thanks through “you’re welcome,” we absolve any debt they might feel towards us.  If we leave the thank you hanging, the transaction is not complete, leaving the door open to further transactions with ourselves as the beneficiary.
Sometimes the ego sees doing something for someone else as being weak.  The ego exists only to serve itself, and doing something that would curry thanks implies concern for others.  Ego is not interested in others except for how they may serve it.
The third reason I’ve come across for not saying you’re welcome has to do with our reasons for completing whatever action generated the thanks in the first place.  Perhaps we did it grudgingly.  Maybe we felt compelled to do it out of guilt or some other negative emotion.  We don’t feel obliged to complete the thank you transaction with a you’re welcome because we don’t feel good about it.  I would argue that this reason has nothing to do with the other person, but solely with yourself.  You made a conscious choice to do something thankable - accept it.
Another defensive tactic I notice myself using is deflection.  I will respond with phrases like: no problem, don’t mention it, it was nothing, etc.  We want to make the other person feel like whatever we did was not an inconvenience; it wasn’t a deal.  In a way, this soils the thank you, lessening it’s value.  Obviously, our actions were significant enough to generate thankful feeling in another human; this makes it significant.  By deflecting the thanks, we cheapen our action and what it means to the other person.
What is the solution?  Choose you’re welcome.  When someone offers thanks for even the most minute action, allow yourself to respond from a place of humility.  Allow the human connection and participate in the emotion.  Recognize that the other person is in fact genuine and truly feels thankful and allow them to do so - say “you’re welcome.”
Here, let’s pretend we are in one of my bands and we have done something outside of the expectation.  When this happens, we always practice the expectation again.  So, just like in church, this is call and response.
Me: Thank you.
You: (say it) You are welcome.
Was that so hard?  Try it again.
Me: Thank you so very much.
You: You are very welcome.
See.  It isn’t so hard, is it.  With practice, you can make it permanent.  Find the place within yourself that is void of ego.  Operate from there, moving through life with a spirit of welcome.  I think life will feel more meaningful.
Check back on Sunday for the next Thanksgiving inspired topic - Attitude of Grattitude.  
Thank you for reading my blog.

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