Saturday, December 7, 2013

"WelComing" Going, Going, Gone? Holding on to Gratitude

Kansha: Gratitude
Grateful people are happier, healthier long after the leftovers are gobbled up, notes The Wall Street Journal. Yet, how do we know that those thanks have been received? Why is it important to be able to receive the gratitude for our actions? Are we able to be gracious enough to receive them? It seems that in the days of virtual friendships and cyber-commuting the welcome mat has been replaced by the “send” button in a truly never-ending exchange of appreciation that, like the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, may be full of stuffing.

Over the years, “You are welcome” the formal (i.e. “proper” in some books) English reply been be falling out of favor in this frenzied, informal, digital world. We hurriedly reply to the ubiquitous expression of gratitude (and its shortened versions, “Thanks”) with yet another “No, thank you!”

Whoa! Was the gratitude actually received? By replying to “Thank you!” with “No, thank you!” may seem polite enough, but it does not mark the completion of the exchange.

Linguistics expert Lynne Murphy notes in her TEDx Talk that the British proclivity for the thankee to “Thank” the thanker back is usually due to the reality that no one else has anything more to say. In contrast, while Americans have been observed to have an overwhelming desire to show endless gratitude -- hence, “Thanksgiving” is a national holiday. Yet, she projects that most likely the practical depth of such appreciation is relatively shallow. She makes the point that the latter politeness behavior system is “especially addictive” in the digital world, such as Facebook.

No matter where in the world, language is losing its grip on the formalities of the past; my efforts to achieve good grades in English classes of my youth may have been an end in themselves. Being formal for formal's sake has little regard in the 21st Century, but while that may be more a factor of a desire to be genuine, there is a missed opportunity: what appeared to be "polite" for no reason is in fact an opportunity to experience something very human.
The reply to “Thank you!” varies across cultures. In some cases it casts a shadow of humility on the donor, saying that the gesture really did not cause any significant loss or was not a burden. Examples of “It’s nothing” or “No big deal” or “No problem” include “De res” (Catalan), “Walang anuman” (Tagalog) “De rien” (French) and “Nincs mit” (Hungarian). Thanking someone in such a way that is disproportionate to the relationship can provoke resentment, guilt and even anger.

Other replies can be “misunderstood or even misused to exert control over the receiver!” notes researcher Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., in The Wall Street Journal. Thus, “Please” as “Bitte schön” (German), “Bevakesha” (Hebrew), “Prego” (Italian), and “Prosze” (Polish), can be inferred that the gesture is one way, or as children say in the game of tag, “No tag backs!”. In other cases, the giving might have been undertaken with the intention that, hopefully, it will promote pleasure, such as “Mi gusto” (Spanish) or “Gerdu svo vel” (Icelandic). The Danish “Selv tak” (Thanks yourself) and Swedish “Varsagod” (Be so good) makes the exchange more final.

Replying with “You’re welcome”, however, is unique It can be said, or conveyed through a gesture, such as a bow in Japan or holding palms touching as if in prayer that is offered in many Southeast Asian and other Buddhist cultures.  There is often a break in the mute exchange during which time the cycle of give and acceptance actually achieves a fullness in the mutual experience and, thus, is complete. It promotes the idea that the recipient is literally welcomed into the exchange and deserving of our efforts.