Vail Daily column: The unrivaled power of thank you
The human experience is a facade designed to trick us into believing we are not animals. Ensconced in a world of technological wizardry and environmental degradation, we strive mightily to distance our species from the muck and mire of our origins. Yet in many respects we remain ruled by our most base instincts toward violence, greed and sex. As the decades progress, there is a concerning dichotomy forming. Advances in communication, transport and medicine give us ever greater and longer access to other people. At the same time, the collective of humanity is splintering into niches that close us off from each other, draining interactions of their emotional connection. We are at once progressing and regressing. Lost in this evolution is the unifying force of manners. The prime casualty is the simple yet potent phrase of “thank you.”
THE GOLDEN RULE
Manners form the vanguard of social education. Once a child understands that “please” and “thank you” are critical terms of respect, it is a small jump to intuiting the Golden Rule. Treating others as you wish to be treated is the fundamental principle of life. Although adorned in many guises, this simple moral guidepost is all of the direction needed to function properly in a society, civilized or not. The confusing morass of daily life explains why we so often stray from this code, but it does not excuse it. We must recapture the importance of common decency. Exalting the power of “thank you” is the necessary first step.
Among this Valley’s shining lights are the citizenry’s dedication to nonprofit work and the cyclical nature of the favor/barter economy. In this small mountain community, it is passion and compassion that drive our endeavors. We do not seek monetary remuneration for our hours of selfless toil. Nor is recognition the goal. Self-aggrandizement and volunteer activities are not appropriate bedfellows. Altruistic though we may be, it is nonetheless disheartening to pour effort into a cause and have the recipient take those outputs for granted. In contrast, when the recipient of largesse proffers a genuine “thank you,” the playing field seems oddly leveled. In the span of five seconds, that person has gone from ungrateful bastard to paragon of virtue. The phrase is simply that effective.
Gratitude can markedly change incentives. Although compelled by some inner force to help people regardless of the recompense, knowing that the person appreciates the effort is important motivation. One is not likely to do another repeated favors unless the previous favors were either reciprocated or valued. The karmic circle cannot turn if all of the input is from one side: that turns the circle into a line segment. The energy inherent in the circular motion is lost. Reference to the Golden Rule is instructive. If the roles were reversed and the person receiving the favor was doing it, they would feel shafted if the favor was done and they were granted only silence.
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If a proper “thank you” is not given, it imbues the volunteer with a profound sense of frustration and despair. Over time, this can lead to disillusionment with the entire business. Those souls willing to donate their energy will become less likely to do so. If not corrected, this trend will lead to the degradation of the collective. Our actions will be guided purely by selfish and monetary-based concerns. We know what that world looks like and it is ugly. “Thank you” is the levee keeping that flood at bay.
Attorneys are frequently targeted to give “a quick look” at a person’s situation, with the expectation that this is not an onerous request. Despite the preamble, the matter is typically complex and usurps valuable time from the attorney’s business. This applies equally to doctors, physical therapists, builders, architects, web designers and everyone else with specialized and pertinent knowledge. While I consider this type of help part of my responsibility as a lawyer, it can often be overwhelming, especially when I am otherwise busy with paying clients. Often, I will devote many pro bono hours to review of a “five minute” problem and you would be shocked at how infrequently I hear the beautiful refrain of “thank you.” Truly, two words can make all the difference — although a couple of beers for the effort doesn’t hurt either!
To make sure I follow my own advice, I send a hearty “thank you!” to all of you out there giving a piece of yourselves to the worthy cause of a robust, happy and healthy community.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, call 970-306-6456, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.