At Your Service: July 14, 2010

It’s a pop quiz: I say, “Thank you,”; you say _____?

If your response is anything other than, “You’re welcome,” I invite you to reconsider. Giving thanks to someone is a spoken token of appreciation. Something the person did made a positive impact and we recognize the gesture. Responding with “you’re welcome” makes it personal and turns the sentiment back around.

Showing appreciation for beneficial things done to and for us is an undervalued expression. There is no reward in doing good things to get the attention. The reward of doing the right thing is in simply doing the right thing. Receiving thanks for the deed is the icing on the cake. Still, there is no denying that cake isn’t the same without the icing.

A few years ago, there was a movement spearheaded by Oprah to encourage random acts of kindness. For a time, people were paying the toll of the car behind them on the thruway, doing things to benefit total strangers — the small things that make a day special. Like many other fads, it faded away. Do we really need a campaign to tell us to be kind to one another?

We don’t have to go out of our way to do something kind for someone else. The opportunities are all around us. The senior in the parking lot is perfectly capable of returning his cart to the caddy, it is simply nice to take it for him. What we have to do in order to perform a kindness for someone else is take notice of other people.

Keeping other people in mind has its own value. It makes us a defensive driver on the road and a better neighbor. It keeps us from mowing the lawn at six a.m. when others may still be asleep. It also gives us critical insights into our own life. Watching a parent discipline their child in public can renew our appreciation for our child who is at this moment being well behaved. It is a good time to reinforce the good behavior and let her know how much we love her.

Much of what is considered an act of kindness is just good old-fashioned courtesy. Common courtesies grease the skids of life and make it easier for all of us. Holding the door for the person entering behind us is an easy thing to do and it helps them. Letting someone pass in front of us on the sidewalk maintains traffic order without slowing our progress in any significant way.

For all of these things, we say thanks. We thank people for doing their job well and especially when they go the extra mile to serve us in some special way. It is so much nicer to have them say that the gesture was not accidental – that we are welcome to the kindness. It wasn’t just “no problem,” but something done just for you.