It is easier than ever to thank.

We can write, email, text, tweet, WhatsApp, Facebook post, emoticon.  We can send a text that reads “tx”.  We can roll our mouse over a big blue thumb.

clapping hands

Easy.  Or so it seems to the thanker.

Most of the things we do (that might be ‘deserving’ of thanks) are done without any expectation of gratitude. In fact, arguably all of them are.  We do thousands of things each day, many of which either directly or indirectly benefit other people, but we don’t do them with any expectation of a pat on the back.  We are generally motivated by other rewards – financial, emotional, personal satisfaction, a general sense that what we do is part of an unwritten quid pro quo or just for the hell of it.

Things today get much more complicated when thanks are expressed.

At the point that someone acknowledges something we have done, they close a loop, creating a complex invisible contract.  When you thank someone, you are putting someone’s deed on the scales – and your expression of thanks is your reading of the weight of the original act.

I have seen friends, colleagues and family going along merrily – and then they are suddenly floored by a unexpected thank you that falls short of their internal estimation of what they have done.  They have had a discordant thanks inflicted on them.  It is a very modern malaise.

I’ve also got the thanking wrong – and over many months finally unraveled the reason why something went awry with a friend.

Thanker beware.

The ease with which we are able to thank today (instantaneously and across tens of thousands of miles) creates regular potential for an imbalance in the contract.    Perhaps the point is that there are two types of thanks: ‘saying thanks’ and ‘showing thanks’.  Any act that is out of the ordinary – and of which we are the beneficiaries – perhaps warrants a response that is more profound and careful (a simple card, for instance)  – or nothing at all.

A thanks that expresses delight or appreciation with due care glows with appropriate reciprocity.  A commoditized press of a key or two on a keyboard on the other hand creates a disconnect between the original deed because it weighs it – and to the voiceless recipient (because, after all, who of us would ever say ‘you didn’t thank me enough’?) can be a painful undervaluing that leaves them perplexed and disheartened.

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