Yesterday’s Thoughts

May 17, 2005

When Not to Say “Thank you”

For many years, I was a member of a volunteer organization. It was my life. I was a member. I was a volunteer. I was a representative. I was on the board. I was involved. I invested time, energy and money. It was also completely worth it. It was one of the best things that I ever did. I am still learning from those experiences, 7 years later. Here is one rule I developed from that experience:

Don’t thank someone for actions that they have taken on their own behalf and for their own reasons.

This isn’t the crispest expression of what I am going for so here is an example. There was one member of the group who would always thank me. He would thank me for showing up and thank me for working hard. He would thank for what I had done with him last week and thank me for doing someone else a favor.

I found this insulting. He didn’t have more ownership of the group than I did. I didn’t show up or work hard for him. I didn’t work with him for his benefit and I didn’t do someone else a favor for him. I did it for myself and for the personal satisfaction that I derived from the doing.

My mother insisted that I always say “Please” and “Thank you.” I want my children to do the same. The difference between “Water” and “Water, please” is enormous. I believe in etiquette. I worship Miss Manners. I don’t want to be thanked for doing what I want to do.

There was something distancing about these thanks. The thanks implied that he had more ownership of the group than I did. This was insulting.

I have often thought about this phenomenon. I don’t think that this precise situation comes up that often, but it does come up and I am not confident that I know how to handle it. When in the little man’s classroom the parents cooperate to fulfill some school need, do I thank the parents that contribute? Does it matter if I was the organizer? What about getting an anouncement in the school newsletter thanking all the parents?

I think no when all parents cooperate and yes to a mention in the newsletter. I am not sure about what to do when I was the organizer.

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