Privilege Blog

A Simple Thank You Will Suffice, Also A Complex One, Or, Saturday Morning at 11:59am

I paid my bills this morning. America celebrates on Thursday. Seems a good time to deconstruct.

Why do we even understand the concept of thanks? Thanks aren’t simple, like walking, or sleeping, or say, carpets. Nor original, like joy, or anger, or sorrow. Babies can feel those, noisily. Thanks are the province of grownups.

Why? I suppose because in order to thank, one has to have a parallel knowledge of lack. Think about it. We want our babies to believe the universe benign, abundant, and unconditional, for that’s where trust starts. Babies, in the best of circumstances, should feel entitled to all they receive.

But somewhere before adulthood kicks in, we come to understand we’re operating in a faulty system. That sometimes, despite our inalienable value as living beings, despite all good behavior, things go wrong.

I think now that teaching kids to say “Thank you,” day in, day out, is a way to prepare them not only for graceful abundance but for that sodden rest of life. In the houses of my childhood we heard, often, “And what do you say?” The answer was either, “Please,” or “Thank you.” Surely some of this was to impose heritage cultural formality. But just as surely all the thanking served to remind us we were not entitled to our surrounding privilege.

So while thank yous are the most important part of good manners, (this Thursday you can put your fork wherever you damn well please as long as you thank the cook) the idea seem far deeper to me. Even when one is not a grace-sayer.

I don’t mean to trade on false sentiment. However, try saying thank you for everything, just for five minutes. Thank you for doorknobs, thank you for the rattling noise of furnaces, thank you for sky.

Completely intoxicating. I concede there may be something wrong with my brain wiring, rapture at the finish line from a simple thank you. But thank you all nonetheless. A million times over.

33 Responses

  1. Very well said. I do believe gratitude is the secret to my happiness, and that is something which was instilled in childhood.

    Thank you for being someone I can look up to and admire, and thank you for sharing your style, wit and wisdom with us all.

    1. Dawn,
      Thank you for taking the time to look at my website. The painting you’re referring to was the second painting I had ever done as an adult. My parents had that bowl with small oranges in it on their table in the kitchen for as long as I could remember. It still hangs above the table with real bowl of oranges on it.

  2. Reading “and what do you say?” made me cringe with childhood memories. Sometimes, I think it can be overdone that it is said, and felt without true meaning or understanding. As Dawn said, teaching “gratitude” feels more real to me. That being said, I still taught my daughter about “thank you” and “please” ~ but partially because I wanted her to have good manners for other people, who would frown upon it if she didn’t.

    1. Two things:

      I just checked out your website and love your beautiful work, especially the bowl or clementines (oranges?) painted for your parents.

      I was just in my son’s classroom on Friday, and the two kids who seemed to not have “please” or “thank you” in their vocabularies were…well, let’s just say not so charming to work with. So you are definitely correct in thinking some people will frown upon it!

  3. Maud Eastwood’s “The Antique Doorknob”, which I was just reading, takes their existence way beyond that basic level of gratitude.

    I’ll go up one additional level: Thank you for LPC/Privilege.
    –Road to Parnassus

  4. As much as it’s not fun as a kid to hear those words, it’s so important. Nobody loves a family more than the one who has kids who are polite and say thank you. I think as I get older, it becomes more genuine with every year, but the seeds had to be planted, so I am thankful for my strict parents–haha, never thought I’d be saying that!

    xo Mary Jo

  5. Happiness and gratitude seem to be best friends.

    Manners are never out of style and thank you for reminding us.

    Hoping that you have a very Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday…
    will there be a turkey cooked in your home?

  6. This makes your bumper sticker, which I have on my car, even more meaningful. This post of yours meant a lot to me. Thank you.

  7. Dear Ms. LPC,

    You’re welcome. And thank you for hosting such lovely conferences here at Privilege. You present, you poke, you inspire.

    Regarding the “and what do you say?”: When my children were preschoolers I taught them the American Sign Language (ASL) gesture for “thank you.” Now, when reminding is needed (not often mind you), I simply gesture and they almost magically offer the mannerly phrase. (We did/do same for “please.”) One feels less of a nag when a quiet gesture is as effective as the spoken phrase (which can sometimes be embarassing/annoying for older children).

    Warm wishes,

  8. Nola and I have had some lovely moments this weekend which involve her saying “Thanks, Nana,” without any prompting, and my responding (warmly, I have to say, with a Nana’s genuine pleasure that she’s so polite) “You’re welcome.” She’s been quite delighted by this phrase, recognizing, I think, my pleasure in her gratitude, and she’s been trying to fold it into conversations herself, not always appropriately, but with considerable gusto.

    And I’m thinking that part of what that’s about is the dawning recognition of her own social competence, her role in a larger world. Manners in context are, indeed, something to be very grateful for. So my thanks to you for another thoughtful post. And Happy Thanksgiving (early, yes, but enjoy it in anticipation) to you and yours!

  9. Lisa, do you know the blog THXTHXTHX? Once a day, a young woman writes (on a card! with a pen!) a thank you note to something in her life. Sometimes banal, but often moving, and usually makes me stop and think a thank-you myself.

  10. Love this post.

    I was brought up in a very thankful house. Always taught to say thanks, and to *feel* it too. To realise how lucky I was,

    Now we have started to teach our toddler the same. When he thanks us without prompting, and with genuine gratitude in his voice (normally reserved for chocolate cake, alas) it sounds wonderful.

    Thank you, LPC, for your thoughts and wisdom!

  11. A lovely post Lisa. We are fond of saying thank you here, even for small things, like cleaning up the breakfast dishes. Daily kindnesses. I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving with your family.

  12. Thank you, like sorry, has devolved too often to the perfunctory.
    The mark of passing from a properly-drilled child to a truly grateful young adult or adult is the ability to articulate what one is thankful for and why. It may not be as deft or nuanced as your post, but how about raising the ante once a person hits driving age:
    “Thanks for picking me up from the game, Aunt Celia; I’m so happy to get home a half-hour earlier.”

  13. oh yes. Have just looked around my study and started to say “thank you” for all the bits and bobs in it, and do, indeed, feel rather tipsy.

    Thank you


  14. No, no – thank *you*.

    This made me smile – mostly because it’s lovely, but also just this morning I caught myself doing the “And what do you say?” with some boisterous first graders. Master P will, naturally, be hearing plenty of that at home; “Sir” and “Ma’am” Texas training is already underfoot.

  15. Er, “underway”, that is. I am thankful for many things, most things, but my inability to comment coherently, particularly after 10 pm, isn’t one of them. :-)

  16. I wish we had this celebration, it has more meaning in it for me than any of the others. I’ve yet to experience it in the US – one day.

  17. Well, you’re welcome.
    And in turn, thank you, for having this space of fashion, etiquette, and most of all deep thinking and analysis of life and living.
    And yes, I agree with what you say, we should constantly say thank you for all around us, for being here, for all our blessings, big or small. I think doing so also contributes to a better world and to your own happiness.

  18. :) From a simple thank you: growth from entitlement to gratitude, deepening our awareness, stretching our hearts, proving our souls. Amazing!
    Thank you LPC. Wishing you happiness in giving thanks this holiday.

    1. “From a simple thank you: growth from entitlement to gratitude, deepening our awareness, stretching our hearts, proving our souls.”

      So good. Something in what you said took me back to the first year I was married to a man who brought his two very young children into our relationship equation. It was Christmastime, we’d set off for an outing of their choice [“Let’s all go to the mall!”], there in the parking lot was a very small boy selling mistletoe out of a beat-up cardboard box. My stepdaughter, age 5, burst into tears. She was worried, she was upset that someone roughly her age was selling something from a box in a parking lot while she was tucked into the car, getting ready to go shopping. I was shocked at her empathic powers given her age.

      Lisa raises that “lack of” may be a prompter to gratitude, exactly. And in the instance above, the felt perception of “lack” on the part of another person is the dawning of empathy. I learned a lot from that little girl.

  19. Nothing wrong with your brain at all – it simply feels good to recognize, appreciate and be thankful for all we have. We are very rich indeed. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you – for the beauty, style, and thought-provoking things you share with us.

  20. Paula – Thank you.

    Dawn – I’m honored.

    Kathy – I know, that what do you say can be, and often is, used to shame children. That’s always the tricky part of parenting, socializing without shaming.

    Parnassus – Thank you very much, and for calling out both LPC and Privilege. That book sounds like something my father might like.

    Mary Jo – Isn’t wisdom surprising? Happy Thanksgiving. xox.

    Aleatha – My sincere pleasure.

  21. Hostess – I like that idea, that happiness and gratitude are best friends. And no turkey this year, hoping to find a chicken to roast at Whole Foods this afternoon.

    Susan – I love knowing that bumper sticker’s life. Thank you so, so much.

    Marilyn – Enjoy your boychicks!

    Deja – Thank you. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving round your place with minimal stress:).

    Ida – Thank you very much.

    Sylvie – Now that is a lovely idea. The little silent gesture. Inspiring, in turn. Thank you.

  22. Mater – If Nola can understand thank you and you’re welcome, with gusto, we can imagine her happiness. xoxox

    Maryn – I had heard of this site. She thanks Thanksgiving for pie. I can work with that:). Thank you for your presence here, and your writing elsewhere even more so.

    Laura – Thank you. And the thought of your toddler’s voice, as he says thank you, makes me so happy.

    Susan – And a beautiful Thanksgiving to you too, with many thanks.

    Duchesse – Oh we always raised the thank you ante:). Can’t you tell?

    RS – Thank you, for bits and bobs.

  23. Melissa – I dunno, I thought underfoot was perfect:). Thank you ma’am!

    Tabitha – I think perhaps Thanksgiving, and Diwali, should be celebrated everywhere? We’d welcome you here.

    Amanda – It’s my pleasure to have such wonderful readers. You all certainly contribute to my better world.

    Mags – Well then. That is one of the most beautiful comments ever. Just lovely. May our souls always be proven. Thank you.

    Flo – I know! Isn’t Mags great? And yes, I think you’re right. Empathy would be the next step.

    Stephanie – :). Thank you very much. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  24. A little thankfulness goes a long, long way –not merely as an outward indication of good manners, but more importantly, as an “enabler” of happiness. Happy people are thankful people.

  25. Very odd, that we as children in Belgium in the 1970’s should have heard exactly the same thing time and time again: “And what do you say?”
    I have been reading your blog for quite a while now – thank you for many beautiful posts.

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