thank you


let me tell you a story. it's a sort of parable actually. one day, Jesus decided to heal 10 lepers. to do this he sent them away to the priests to show them that they had been healed. after this they went on about their way, except for one, who decided to send Jesus a thank you note. he found Jesus' address, which was quite difficult because foxes have holes but this guy lacked a pillow. he wrote out the card, trying to figure out exactly what to say, since basically everything that needed to be said was written on the outside of the card. finally he settled on this:

"thank you Jesus for healing me. i very much appreciate the action and i will make sure to put to good use my now fully functioning body. you're the best.
~samaritan leper"

har har a little cheesy i know. but i was thinking about this the other day and it really got me wondering--what is the deal with thank you notes? i don't mean that question in a seinfeld comedy sketch sort of way, but for real. why have these things become such a cultural norm. not only are they a norm but they are expected and even often passive-aggresively demanded. "unless i get a thank you note well then maybe i just won't give you a present next year!"

you do something nice for someone, but then when you don't get the thank you note in the mail you feel somehow cheated and that they were ungrateful--even though they expressed their thanks several times during or right after the actual event. but that's not enough. we have to get the little card, to show they took the time to care. of course when we receive the card we read it over carefully, usually many times over, frame it, put it up where we can always see it. no! it usually finds its way into the trash very shortly, or for the packrats in some drawer. at best it sits on a shelf for a bit, but usually that space is more reserved for the prettier cards. the thank you note is just a mental checkmark to keep off the negative attitude you would have for not feeling appreciated.

contrary to its original intention, it seems as if the thank you note has come to achieve the exact opposite effect one would hope. not for the receiver, but for the giver. because it has become expected, the thank you note effectively voids any sense of true, free giving. it's not enough for the person to simply say "thank you." we expect the note. otherwise they are ungrateful and they just don't understand the sacrifices we made for them and the least they could do was sit down and write a little note and put it in the mail!

because it's really about us. it's really about them understanding that we have made a great sacrifice in some way through giving to them. i did something for you and you owe me this in proper fashion. anything less would be like the 9 lepers--so unchristian, so impolite. saying the words is actually the same way. we learn to say thank you from a very young age. so much so that when we don't people think we're rude.

just because you did something for someone does not mean that it is your right to receive a thank you. an expression of true thanks should come from the heart of genuine gratefulness, not customary response. and a gift freely given should not require thanks. a response much more truly apt like "de nada"--"it's nothing" rather than "you're welcome."

indeed i believe that any time a thanks is expected or even required, whatever was given was not given freely and is therefore less deserving of a true thanks. politeness has breeded disingenuineness.

or maybe i'm just an insensitive and ungrateful male. perhaps someone would care to correct me?


  1. i think you have hit on a true point...how many other things in our culture breeds ingenuineness?

    and in case it wasn't said clearly enough, thank you. you couldn't have imagined how it would bless not only us, but many people here. more later friend

  2. I have kept something I wrote in high school: "true selflessness is beautiful but very hard to acquire. there are 2 negative tendencies - to expect something in return (love, gratefulness)or to lose oneself, so that in the long run you become almost dependent on the ones you give to. The real secret is to give to others for their sakes while at the same time being consciously aware that this process is benefiting you. If you give in this way - a giving to yourself - you cannot become bitter when no love of thankfulness is given in return." There is social etiquette that prompts the receiver of a gift (a present, time spent or anything) to say thank you at that moment. Another way to give a gift back to a person you value is to share an expression of what you have valued from them. There are so many easy ways to do that now - an email, a text, a verbal remembrance the next time you see them. To me, it is the building blocks of a relationship. Perhaps the leper who came back to say thanks was the only one who also longed for a relationship. Perhaps the person who hopes for a thank you beyond the immediate expected expression is longing for some type of relationship.

  3. This very same thought process has been twirling through my head too, especially this year.

    The most current frustration has been with X-mas cards. With a lot of people I know (one side of the extended family in particular) if you don't send a x-mas card, it's rude and disrespectful. Or they get the impression that you don't like them or something...even though most of their cards are impersonal and have nothing but their named signed, along with a cheesy hallmark saying. They send them just to save face. I almost didn't send out x-mas cards for this very reason, but decided to combat it with writting a very personal and detailed Christmas letter to each of them. But next year if I don't send out x-mas letters, I won't feel bad or pressured, b/c I'd rather not do things out of compulsion.

    I have come to the conclusion that most people who send out thankyou cards feel much the same as you and I, but they keep doing it to keep up with propriety. I'm sure that most people don't care that they don't get a thankyou card... especially if they know you well. But there are those people out there that expect a thankyou card, even after a verbal thanks, and I am convinced that they are the reason for this cultural, compulsive thankyou card sending.

    Every once in awhile I enjoy sending thankyou cards, especially to people who don't expect them. Those are the people that I most want to thank once again.

    To send them, or not to send them? That is the question. This could be contemplated for hours... in my case it has. :)

  4. i HATE writing thank you cards ... so i don't. i guess this makes me a nice person - thanks luke for relieving the guilt!

  5. I'd have to agree. I'm really not a fan of writing thank you letters unless I don't feel obligated then it's fine... but I hate that it matters so much to people. I don't really even like receiving them, I mean i guess I'm indifferent to it but the thought in my head is that they didn't have to spend the time or money to write that card because it doesn't really make me feel that they're any more thankful =)