Kicking it old-school style gratitude
Every morning on my way in to work I pass a huge billboard that says “gratitude.” I have not quite bothered to figure out what the billboard is trying to sell -I recognize that sounds a bit jaded-but the phrase has been on my mind for a while now. There is much to be grateful for in life, despite its times of heaviness. It is that belief that keeps me going strong and feeling resilient. So, in this holiday season of tryptophan, carbs and treadmills I wanted to reflect a bit on gratitude. I will not go through a list of things for which I am grateful. That is a snarky list for another day. Soon to come, my friends. Soon to come. I want to talk about showing gratitude. Or, rather, the etiquette thereof.
I attended Vassar and yes there were boys there when I went. It long since stopped being a “girl’s” school. But, nonetheless, I pride myself on being a Vassar girl and having been taught manners- the rules of gratitude etiquette. For example, I know to send a thank you note after a job interview. These days many do not do so. At times I think it’s because people don’t know how to write letters anymore. But an email note would suffice just as well. But at the heart of the matter is the sentiment that many nowadays feel that they deserve that interview and thus they feel no sense of gratitude. Consequently, they feel no need to express gratitude. What’s a well-mannered girl to do in this rapid-pace, selfie-driven 21st century?
I was always taught that when you go to someone’s house you bring a little gift. It need not be extravagant. The gift is just meant to be a token of appreciation for the person opening up their house to you. I have no idea where that gratitude ritual has gone. Even when I am going to someone’s house for a business meeting -and those do occur a lot in the non-profit field- I bring something. Recently, I had such an opportunity and I indeed brought a gift (two actually). Afterwards, someone in the meeting said to me “Wow! That was really nice of you.” Now, before you think they were a bit incredulous because I’m considered a “meanie” that was not it at all. It just had not occurred to anyone to do so because it was a business meeting. But why would it not? A house is such a personal space that it should mean something to all involved be invited into that space. Months ago, I had a large group of colleagues over for a day-long meeting. I cleaned beforehand. I did special grocery shopping. Even in the business meeting, I played hostess. Yet, only one person brought over a token of appreciation. I didn’t take it personally. It just seems to be the way some people function now. It never occurred to the majority of colleagues to be grateful for the efforts and space provided to them. If it did occur to them, they apparently didn’t feel the need to demonstrate said gratitude.
The highlight or perhaps example of gratitude etiquette gone awry is what I refer to as the “Splenda incident”. A few years back, I hosted a little get together that was meant to be a homey, low-key, comfort-food laden gathering. The food was indeed comforting, laughs were shared and drinks warmed the belly. Then as I was making the after-dinner coffee, my guest made a peculiar request. After mixing up the hazelnut creamer and syrup, I brought out a large box of Splenda that I had purchased at Costco but had not had the opportunity to open as of that time. I took out my sugar jar and opened the Splenda-packet box. I turned to find my guest breathing down my neck noting: “you know, Splenda is the best of the diet sugars. But it is so expensive. Since you have so many, can I take some of yours home?” I was slightly confused and consequently mumbled out a “Yeah, sure. Go ahead.” At which point, said guest got a bag and proceeded to fill it with Splenda packets. Must have taken a few hundred or so. I honestly cannot recall how much Splenda costs, but I assume maybe four dollars for every 100 packets. I was basically charged for hosting the gathering. In terms of an etiquette continuum that may be on the low end of things. Now, while I was immediately bewildered and tad put off. I thought about it. If taking the Splenda packets helped that person out then so be it. The gathering was meant to lift spirits and if 200 sugar packets helped do that, who am I to judge or begrudge? I believe in enjoying the sugar high. For me, it would have been lemon heads. One thing I would like to note though about the Splenda incident: it would have been nice to receive a thank you note.
Thank yous can go a long way to lift the spirit. Next time someone holds the door open in the cold, say thanks. The next time someone works all weekend to get you a good product that will make you look good, say thanks. The next time someone lets you cut ahead in the Airport TSA line, a thank you would be appreciated. The next time someone works two months straight day and night to save countless jobs, a statement of thanks would be soul-soothing.
I am not cynical. Well, not 100% cynical. I do not just focus on the gratitudes gone awry or withheld. I have also been fortunate to see and feel the presence of grand and small acts of gratitudes. I have received the random handwritten business notes thanking me for being supportive despite holding very different points of view. I have also been treated to a Celine Dion concert for being part of someone’s changed life trajectory (for the better). Although, next time (hope this doesn’t sound ungrateful) can it be a Depeche Mode concert? Although, in that instance, just spending time together was the key part. I have hosted many individuals who have brought with them house gifts; those outnumber by far those that didn’t. At the end of the day, I do not need the gifts. Companionship truly can be its own reward. However, I just want to make a shout out to those old-school acts of gratitude. Those acts should continue despite our fast-paced world where people become Facebook friends within a hot second of meeting each other.
Let me end with this great experience. Today, I received both a tin can of Mrs Field’s cookies -yum! – and a very nice bottle of Venezuelan Rum. Holla! I received both from different people as thank yous. How sweet it was to receive them. The cookies were from a long-standing business colleague who was thankful for a recent business dinner. The cookies were just the proverbial icing considering he is such a cool guy to chat with and learn from. The rum was a very thoughtful gift from a colleague thanking me for my mentorship. That person was a true joy to mentor; someone who took every moment to learn. I get something psychological out of mentoring as well. I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the growth and the “aha” moments. Thus, the rum well, it’s a sweet, sweet gesture that will warm my belly even more so knowing it comes from a place of mutual appreciation.
To all those that have helped in any way, supported, listened, lent a hand with grace and gumption this past year: a big heartfelt thank you. Rock on.