Not used to hearing ‘thank you’
By T.J. Ray
And in case I’ve ever met a Basque, “Eskerrak eman.”
No doubt there are a few other non-speakers of English that I owe it to, but allow me to lump them with all the English speakers I owe.
“Thank you. I appreciate you.”
You see, I had to clean my own slate before I suggested others clean theirs. We live in a world that has become more and more ego-centered. What that means is that in our world, individuals more and more concentrate on their own personal affairs and are in such haste to move from one event to the next that some old-fashioned habits are lost. Among them taking the time to say “thank you.”
When is the last time you heard the phrase? At a fast-food place? At a government office? Strangers talking near you? Cashiers at the grocery store? Try to remember as you go through a day to note the times someone expresses gratitude to someone else.
In high school we seniors took a sociology class that had a unit on how to greet strangers. (We also covered the etiquette of going through doors with elders or folks of another gender.) Such a course is a serious fix public schools need today. A fast “thank you” from a typical middle school kid to his mother might trigger cardiac arrest.
Not only do we not routinely thank people for their attention, but also we’ve become deaf to the fact that we don’t hear it said to us. Saying “thank you” to a bag boy at the grocery store will earn you a puzzled look. And if you happen to say “thank you” and use his name on his tag, he’ll wonder if you’ve lost your mind.
The closest thing to saying the words these days is the tip we add to our tab at eateries. But even that has become impersonal as it is usually added to the final bill. The waiter doesn’t see it until the boss processes the American Express charge. Walk away from a table without leaving a tip and watch the expression on the server’s face!
As I age (now I’m over 50), I realize that many folks I owe gratitude to are not around to be thanked. It would be very satisfying to believe that any good traits I have were earned by yours truly, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that my good qualities — and yours — were not genetically induced. The cliche that it takes a village to raise a child strikes me more and more as ringing true.
But what happens if everyone in the village begins to think only of Moi, Ich, Me?
Won’t that village produce a new generation that inevitably will make itself the focus of its efforts? Isn’t that sort of what we’ve done?
Anyway, thank you for reading these words. Have a nice day unless you already have other plans.
T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.