The girlfriend of a friend’s son (late 20s) remarked that she didn’t like saying thank you,
it made her feel obligated. Less a chip on the shoulder than a whole sack of potatoes. I have a particular relationship with courtesies in general and thanks in particular and off the top of my head, I can’t think of a circumstance in which I would feel obligated. Wal taught me late in life that if somebody really wanted to buy your lunch, (a) they could probably afford it and (b) you should let them. The rubric about “no such thing as a free lunch” is another matter.
My mother used to growl about gratitude being a dangerous emotion and in context, I can see what she was driving at. Grateful that someone special (business or pleasure) noticed you, took you to dinner, took you to bed was a hiding to nowhere in particular. Your gratitude might be expected – not appealing – or ignored – rejecting. There must be a better basis for social transaction.
I am sure I was just as resistant about thanks as every other small child and had to be encouraged to acknowledge effort, kindness and /or the gift of the last toffee but encouraged I must have been, because it is deep in my marrow.
And it didn’t take a pandemic to get me to notice the efforts that made my life easier. Thank you costs nothing, takes a few seconds and often, means a lot. So I was shocked when last week I thanked a man in the supermarket and he said with a shrug “No choice. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be here.” OK. So now I am facing 30 years of disappointment. I said very levelly “There is always a choice. I’m just thanking you for being here today”, collected my shopping and the foot I had put in it, and left.
The same thing happened in M&S where a woman said “Don’t tell me, tell the management. Makes no difference if you don’t” though other sources tell me M&S have been assiduously supportive of their staff. As Abraham Lincoln said “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” and I used to add, only a fool would try. The warmest thanks you ever get is for doing your best.
I risk going “on” about my parents because they were outstanding – with a full set of ups and downs, and family rows and difficulties. Light shone round them, nothing to do with haloes. They were married 48 years when my father died and in some ways it was a deeply conventional marriage (she cooked, he smoked) but it had roots of commitment and honour and respect. Apart from loving each other, they liked each other and they bore each other up in times of trouble.
All the way through my childhood, till I was 17 and left home, I remember my father thanking my mother as the punctuation to the end of a meal whether it was what she called “scratch” or something with a bit more finesse. My father knew that my mother always did her best and he thanked her for it.
It didn’t take a pandemic for me to realise that thanks is acknowledgement and in an increasingly greedy and materialistic society, you risk feeling that you are worth nothing if it’s not reflected in what you earn, or what you’ve got.
Thanking my dustbin men started years ago, when I realised what a decent bunch they were. They’d take anything as long as it was properly wrapped. I am capable of standing at the door and applauding the man with a vehicle called a Scarab that sweeps up dead leaves and the rubbish in the gutter, both of us grinning. Who loses ?
One of the great freedoms of age is that you get to spread thanks around. I don’t care if you think I am a mad old bat with white hair – I am – but I will stick my head round the door in a quiet moment, 24 hours later, to thank someone who tried to help me in the chemist – no money, no calories, no problem – reciprocal magic.