Hello Friends. If you’ve been by the Monday Blog for the last couple of weeks, you know I’m talking about gratitude and being thankful this month. Monday #11 was the post following Hurricane Sandy and included a lovely prayer by Leo Babuta, author of the inspiring blog, Zenhabits, which is my new favorite cyber stop. Monday #12 encouraged you to give yourself a credit report and to always remember to thank the person closest to you… YOU! We hear a lot about gratitude, especially in November, however, so much of the discussion surrounding gratitude relates to the feeling, actions and words of the grateful. Have you ever thought about how we receive gratitude?
Because, well, I have.
I’ve thought about it quite a bit actually because I’ve noticed the shift in the exchange of language in thankful situations. Now, before I go on, I’d like to say that I am endlessly fascinated by linguistics and, as a once upon a time english major, I can tell you that the few linguistic studies classes I took, while arguably useless and fluffy courses, were nonetheless some of the most interesting hours I spent in college. I’m curious about stuff like the regional divisions for the names of things–pop vs. soda, bag vs. sack, sneakers vs. tennis shoes–and the way we format sentences depending on where we live (I have a good friend who uses a midwest structure that drops to be, “My car needs washed, “My laundry needs done,” “My house needs cleaned.”) I’m also interested in the accents, the conversational styles and inflections that tell us easily what part of the country someone is from. Finally, I am big fan of slang acquisition (Urban Dictionary, anyone?) and, after working many years with children and young people, find the evolution of our daily language to exhibit the rich and creative nature of words and the power that people have when they are able to harness their energy and meaning. I’m a writer, after all. I love language. I love words.
But, now back to gratitude. When someone says “Thank you,” how do you reply? Because I’ve noticed something in our culture with regard to how people receive gratitude. A heartfelt “You’re welcome” has turned into a jaunty “No problem”… even, sometimes, into a casual, Tex-Mex “No problemo.” And, when I saw that I was starting to say “No problem,” too, I realized that I do have a problem with this. I knew I had to write about it when, recently, I heard someone close to me being thanked in a rather poignant way and they replied with an abrupt, “Yup.”
Here’s the problem with no problem, as I see it. First, it implies that what the person did for you could have been a problem, or that, in the future, it might be a problem. I especially don’t like it out in the world of service and retail. You thank someone for helping you find a pair of jeans in your size or bringing you a glass of pinot noir… is that a problem? Because I’m sorry, I thought that was your job?! How could it be a problem? Second, it takes two positive words, thank and you, and throws back two negative words, no and problem. Words have an energy of their own and convey meaning and emotion just through their definition and spoken sound. Personally, I’m not a fan of problems and, honestly, I’m confused about how they became so much a part of thanking someone. But, finally, and I think most importantly, when someone thanks us and we reply with “No problem,” we take the importance of the gratitude–that is coming from a person who is expressing it, hopefully genuinely– and we put it on ourselves rather than keeping it with the grateful person. We make their gratitude about us and whether or not whatever they are thanking us for is a problem. Saying “You’re welcome” acknowledges the person who thanks us and conveys a positive message that whatever we have done for them was deserved.
Now, maybe you think that this is fuddy-duddy linguistic nitpicking and certainly, because I’m a product of the same culture that you are, I’m sure that I’m going to catch myself saying “no problem” again. But what I truly believe is that while day-to-day exchanges of niceties aren’t too difficult, the truth is that it’s not always easy to thank someone and, in these moments where heartfelt gratitude comes forth, it’s important that we not diminish its power by neglecting to express that the person is undoubtedly deserving of our efforts, our time or our emotions. “No problem” is dismissive. “You’re welcome” is affirmative. And, I might go so far as to say that the individual who feels awkward or weird saying “You’re welcome” should meditate a little on what that might mean for him/her.
So, THANK YOU all for stopping by today and, as we make our way to Thursday, I wish you the most joyous of Thanksgivings. We all have so much to be thankful for. I know I do.
TRY THIS WEEK: Exchange a few “No problems” for “You’re welcomes.”