Small Courtesies

Every once in a while I send an email to one of my children or grandchildren. I rarely get a reply. Sometimes it is in response to a question they ask me. I try to answer it in an email and I wait in vain for a thank you.

On special occasions, we send a gift. With increasing frequency, we never receive a thank you note, email, phone call, or text message

I am disappointed when this happens. I ask myself is this reasonable? I am bothered by it. Is there anything more unsettling than being ignored, especially by someone you love?

Now I learn that I am out of fashion, that current email etiquette does not require a thank you or acknowledgement.

In the Times Nick Bilton writes, “Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.” I utter a profanity.

If I was speaking in person to someone and they didn’t reply to a question I asked or a remark in our ongoing conversation, it would feel rather strange, to say the least. Yet the rudeness of such silence would be unmistakable.

I am sure I’d get a reply if we were texting each other or speaking on the phone. But not necessarily in an email.

Bilton quotes Baratunde Thurston, a co-founder of something called a “comedic creative company.” “It’s almost too easy to not think before we express ourselves because expression is so cheap, yet it often costs the receiver more.” Again, I utter a profanity.

I know I am older than these people and that I come from a tradition that both expects and appreciates a thank you note, regardless of how it is delivered. I do not understand or welcome the new era of digital silence.

I see people on the street, in restaurants, and elevators staring at the screen on their cell phone, usually hitting the keys with their thumbs. Sometimes, their thumbs are moving as fast as the speed of light. It almost seems that this gadget has become attached to their body.

A teacher describes a short seminar she will be teaching. She plans to give the students a few pre-assignments: one is to take a walk, observe what they see around them, but without taking their cell phones. To that I say, “fantastic.”

What an experience that will be, the trauma of a few minutes of solitude without that part of their body, as if they were leaving one of their feet at home before heading out for a walk.

The teacher says, “I am very sure—that asking them to spend half an hour without a cell phone is like asking them to take their clothes off. No cell phones, no cup of coffee—just take a solitary walk.”

I think this teacher deserves the Teacher of the Year award. And I wonder how the students will get by. Will they begin suffering from a new form of traumatic stress disorder? Or need to repair to their psychiatrist before the half hour walk ends?

However, I doubt this exercise will teach them the lost art of saying thank you when they receive a gift or a thoughtful email. I have no idea what it will take to do that?


Stefanie said...

Thank you for this post! For many years I have been disturbed by a lack of acknowledgment in the form of a thank you for gifts in particular. My husband's nieces teens they were so bad at saying thanks for birthday presents or even letting us know they had received them that we stopped sending gifts altogether.

Richard Katzev said...

We too have thought about no longer sending a gift. That's hard to do. It is a punishment of sorts, which never works. I am thinking of alternatives. There are several.

Nancy said...

My 15 year old daughter planted bulbs in a pot last November. The 60-something recipient sent her an thank-you email this week when they bloomed. It clearly touched my daughter. I asked her why and she said that she has done many little projects for people but rarely does she receive a thank you for it. She really smiled for the rest of the day.

So, in her mind, a thank-you from ANYONE, regardless of age, was special.

The electronic appendages is another issue in my mind.

Yet both are related to the teaching of good habits and manners, I think.

Richard Katzev said...

And you have obviously taught her well. I don't think age has anything to do with the lost art of saying thank you among the young or anyone for that matter. We seem to be losing a lot of what we used to call civility.

Vane D. Lopez said...

Thank you for posting this. Don't exactly recall how I came across your blog but I'm glad I did. I thought I was one of a few in the world who has felt technology has robbed the children and young generations of not only an immeasurable part of their creativity but a sense of respect and admiration for others due to the fast paced impersonal lifestyle norms that are cultivated by current society norms. It’s as though these technical gadgets are meant to detach any type of subjective intimate human interaction. Any type of empathy towards others are interjected by the demands of this debauched fast paced world. I’m most certain it’s not their fault, it’s something that’s embedded in them by society demands but it most certainly is something that can improve.

I’m still very young but I consider myself a wiser person because of my experiences, I got married so young at the age of 14 (there’s self-sacrificial reasons why this happened) and was already a mother by the time I was 15. I also under came many devastating circumstances and experiences that I wish not to share here. It was difficult to grasp everything that was going on and still manage to continue living my life. I felt as though I gave my all for the sake of other people’s happiness but I never got appreciated. It’s not that I was seeking great recognition, but I just wanted to feel appreciated and accepted. Poetry and music was a way I made sense of all my experiences. It was a way I could appreciate my experiences whether good or bad. I guess it was also a way of saying “thank you” to myself when I felt the world was constantly saying “….you” by the way I was treated. This allowed me to make sense of everything and realize that I can’t change others and how they think but that I could change myself and that in a way can create some type of change eventually.

On another note, I think the fact that you continue to send your family members e-mails even though they don’t respond most of the time shows that you deeply care for your family members but it is important to understand that times have changed and some things are inevitable. I’m sure your family members care about you but they might not read their emails every day since they are so caught up in this fast paced world. If you can reach them by phone or text, you have more of a chance to get a thank you than from an email that might me overlooked or possibly sent to the spam mail by mistake. It’s understandable to automatically assume that they are purposely ignoring you. Unfortunately that’s what technology does to humanity, it separates us from reality. How can we possibly know what a person is thinking or feeling by their lack of response or a phone call not being answered? Sometimes technology fails and we fail to acknowledge it is not always so reliable.

Why not go back to the old ways of sending messages to make sure they receive them such as sending a written letter by mail? I know this is much more time consuming but a written letter is more personal and it just might spark something magical in a person’s heart. A “thank you” may not be in the form of replying back but in the form that they may save your heartfelt written letters. Written letters are a way of leaving a legacy in some way and a clear glimpse of family history and appreciation of one another. Learning to appreciate yourself is key and by what you express here it seems like you are a caring person who loves his family and that in itself is admirable. Everyone needs to feel appreciated once in a while and I can tell you this, you might not feel appreciated but in reality you are appreciated by others. The question is do you appreciate yourself and realize how great of a person you already are and how you inspire others? It’s ok if you don’t reply back as long as you reply.

-Vane D. Lopez

Richard Katzev said...

I am grateful for your beautiful message.

Vane D. Lopez said...

Thank You!