Writing Thank You Notes: A Lost Etiquette
Personal Written Expressions of Thanks Are a Rarity
Emily Post has probably turned over in her grave a thousand times if she has been able to witness from eternity the shallow, negligent, impersonal, ungrateful world we live in today. It was a given in bygone days that when a person received a wedding or baby shower gift they sent the gift-giver a hand-written thank you note within one to three months. When being a guest in someone's home for a meal or celebration, a card or note of thanks was an ingrained, automatic response. Children sent letters of thanks to their grandparents and aunts and uncles for Christmas and birthday gifts. It was called manners, gratitude, respect, and thoughtfulness.
Today there is very little gratitude and it can be seen by the absence of personally written or delivered notes or calls of thanks. Grandparents will often tell you they never know if their grandchildren ever received the gift they sent because there was no communication from them. I know someone who says she calls a few weeks after sending gifts to the grandkids - "Josh, did you get the legos I sent you for Christmas?" Josh's response is always the same - a very distracted and unenthusiastic "Yeah." End of conversation. In all fairness, if the child has not been taught to say a sincere thank you, he cannot be blamed.
Peggy Post, Emily's great-grandson's wife has taken up the baton her great-grandmother-in-law passed along, and now writes about etiquette. Unfortunately, the people who need to listen to her the most, are clueless about her existence.
"Thx" is Not Enough
The advent of electronic media - email, text messaging, social media - has impersonalized communication. Using media to communicate is wonderfully fast and convenient, but it has caused a great chasm in relating to one another in a personal, meaningful way. Sending a text, email, facebook post or tweet offers the convenience of not having to take time to think about what to say in the most heartfelt way (email might be an exception at times). Communication mediums such as these can be likened to written sound bites - short, flippant little snippets. We type letters on a screen and hit send with lightning speed, with no forethought. Get it done quick and easy and get back to me, myself, and I.
Today we send hurried texts that say "Thx," when someone has taken the time and care to give something significant to us. "Thx" lacks sincerity, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness if it's about things that really matter. "Thx," says "That's all I have time for you. I am too busy to even write the whole word, let alone how deeply I appreciate X, Y, or Z." "Thx" is appropriate in situations like, "Oh, you forgot your book while you were here. I will put it on your desk."
Is Electronic Media That Different Than Writing a Letter?
Since the technological mediums I mentioned involve sending word messages, one might ask how it is different than writing a thank you letter, card, or note. Consider these:
Sending a thank you message via email can sometimes be appropriate, but there is always the risk of it being deleted accidentally and the message never got through.
Purchasing or making a thank you card, on the other hand, requires thoughtful consideration when making a choice. You look at the image and think how much the recipient might like the roses, or the puppy etc. If you choose to get one with a sentiment, you search through the many cards to find one that expresses what you'd like to say the best (at least the recipient hopes you did). This is called thoughtfulness. It shows them that they matter and that you are grateful.
Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy, in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords. It takes time to sit down at the desk and think up a meaningful way to say thank you. And yet, most people don't think twice about spending hours on the computer surfing the net or reading tweets.
When Should We Send a Thank You Note?
Thank you notes should be sent when someone has gone out of their way for you to show you that they care. Following are standard occasions to send notes of thanks:
- Shower gifts
- Wedding gifts
- New baby gifts
- Graduation gifts
- Any gift where the giver is not present
- After an exceptional kindness or favor
- After a job interview
- Condolence notes or gifts
- When you've been a house guest
- Parties or events thrown in your honor
- Variety of events you've attended
- Benevolent gifts or charity of some sort
- Donations to your favorite charity
Exceptional acts of kindness can be anything that has helped or encouraged you. There are a million and one reasons to write notes of thanks.
Do you write thank you notes?
Email and Telephone Thank You's
Email thank you notes are perfectly appropriate in casual situations with people you are very close to, such as a friend, family member, close co-worker. It also depends on the reason for saying thank you.
I have written email thank you's many times to close friends where I wanted to say more than just a few words that fit on a card and wanted to get the message to them quickly. You can still take the time to consider what you will say and write a thoughtful message. Again though, you always run the risk of it getting deleted or lost somehow. Take time to cut and paste and save onto a word document in case it is somehow lost. There is nothing wrong with asking "Did you get my email?" If they didn't, you can try again, or send it snail mail.
Telephone thank you's are wonderful at holiday times and birthdays. It gives you and your family a time to chat and catch up and verbalize your gratitude that they will hear in your voice. Few parents have their children write thank you notes anymore when family members send them gifts, and that's okay as long as the child calls the family member and offers a proper thank you. Personally, I prefer this when it comes to the grandkids. It is important for parents to teach their children how to do this and why.
Having children say thank you is the polite thing to do. It teaches children to be thankful and find joy in saying thank you. It helps children to become "other" oriented.
Do you have your children write thank you notes?
Teach Children to Write Thank You Notes
It is wonderful to receive a thank you note from a child. I have helped my children's teachers and taught Sunday school off and on for many years and received many cards and letters of thanks, complete with drawings. May is teacher appreciation month and a good time to have your child and/or his class write a note or a poster of thanks. These are treasures teachers will always hold dear.
It is important also for parents to model gratitude in the home. Not just in written form, but as a way of life. In fact, it is the modeling of gratitude that will make the greatest impression and impact on the children. It will cause gratitude to grow in their hearts.
Is There Hope?
The ethos of communication in America today is defined and driven by the desire to get things done as fast as possible, as easy as possible, and as conveniently as possible. It is sad that communicating gratitude in written form is viewed as a prehistoric practice by most people today. Barring a miracle, it will probably not return any time soon. The die has been cast. We can only hope that this mindset will wear itself out or that the emptiness of it will cause a hunger to find connection and thoughtfulness once again. Wouldn't it be wonderful if note cards one day became best selling items?
© 2013 Lori Colbo