Thursday, 6 May 2021
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone”
Gladys Bronwyn Stern
One thing I always enforce in our home, is that my children have to say ‘bedankt, mama’ (thank you, mama) every time they receive the meal at home. Yes, I’m a bad mom – I never hide the fact to my children that it takes me hours to cook, and clean; Papa has to work hard to get money to buy the ingredients, and that’s why they ought to be grateful in receiving the meal from us.
When I was young, as a means to earn more for the family, my parents opened a small shop at the front side of our house. We sold daily necessities, like eggs, soaps, rice, snacks, over-the-counter medicine, etc. Our customers were most likely our neighbours, the housewives who needed to buy something they forgot to buy in the market, or little children buying some candies.
Me and my brothers had to take turns to wait in the shop and serve the customers. I was quite younger than my brothers so I didn’t get to do it as much – and I got irritated at the shoppers much more easily (I still have that temper until now, haha).
One day I asked my mom, “Mom, why do I have to say thank you to the customers? We are the one to help them so they get what they need? And sometimes those children buy only so little, like 25 cents. And for that they bring so much hassle. Why must WE say thank you? They never say thank you to us!”
My mom answered me, “You know, for every cent they pay to us, we have to be grateful. Because that’s how we earn money, so we get to buy our daily needs. Actually they are helping us, that’s why we say thank you. Actually every time we have to say thank you to other people who help us.”
I was pretty young at that time, but I NEVER forget that conversation. And recalling how not nice it was to have the people not thanking us, I made sure that I would ALWAYS say thank you to every single person bringing their service to me – bus driver, supermarket cashier, nurses, doctors, the waiters in the restaurants. The small talk my mom made with me brought me to realize that what people do, are gifts to make my life easier, therefore I need to say my thanks.
Many decades later, life brought me into a situation where I went to another family, and as a gesture of respect I brought some gifts for them. I was surprised then because nobody said thank you! What is this situation? It was a very awkward moment to me because I honestly thought that’s a very standard courtesy in every family!
It took me some time to understand that for some people and some particular culture, saying thank you seems to be degrading for them. Please, sorry, and thank you are not common language for some people because somehow other people’s gifts and thoughtfulness are seen as a normal duty, entitlement in their daily lives. This made me realize that the gratefulness towards others is something that needs to be taught, especially in the family.
“Thank you” conveys our appreciation, our gratefulness, towards others
Table of Contents
- 1 “Thank you” conveys our appreciation, our gratefulness, towards others
- 2 When gratefulness are not shared by others
- 3 Teaching ‘thank you’ to my children
Their help might be a little one, a bus trip from home to school – what’s so special about that? But still, without their service, I would have to walk all the way. The bus driver has made my life easier (and safe!) by doing his work well.
“Thank you” exercises our humbleness
We realize that we are not ‘everything’. We need other people to live with, we need other people to complete our life. We don’t take things and people for granted because we know they perhaps don’t have to do what they do for us – we are in the needy position, that’s why we’re grateful.
“Thank you” helps us to be considerate and act less carelessly
We realize we are not entitled to get everything, we realize not all things belong to us. And because and only by other people’s willingness and kindness we get those things we need from them. We use public facilities with care and respect, we receive gifts and use them carefully. They are not free, they are done on the works of others.
“Thank you” plants the willingness to pay forward
Having appreciated the help of others, enjoying the grace from others, makes us realize how fortunate it is to be helped. And this grows a sense of feeling that we would like to repay their kindness. Perhaps we would never get the chance to help one particular person who has helped us, but we would want to help others if we’re met with the same situation.
“Thank you” to other people is a smaller form of our thankfulness to God
When people feel entitled to get help from other people for ‘just because’, they also feel entitled to get all from God just for what they are. Ungratefulness towards people shows our ungratefulness towards God.
Everytime we’re helped by others we are reminded that God cares for us, and He uses other people to reach out to our life.
These times, gratefulness sounds like a strange word for many of us. When I lived in Asia, it was not a custom to hold the door open for someone behind you. I can’t remember if I had a habit to do that, but once I started living in Europe, I realized people do this kind of thing here. Some older man held the door open for me, even though I was still one meter away from that door. How can I not say thank you? Especially when my hands were full with babies.
But some people just go through the door and say nothing! My husband often asks me, “Why did you even bother to hold the door? Just let him open it by himself!” I answered, “What then? Should I just shut it in his face? Am I still a human afterwards?”
I’m a member of many quilting groups on Facebook, and many of the ladies shared the same somber story; the quilt that they had made with a ton of love, effort, and (money!) and give away as a gift would arrive at the house of the receiver. These ladies never get any thank you notes, or thank you call, or anything at all! Some receivers even get the nerves to use these precious gifts as bedding for their pets, or a lining for their car’s trunks.
These people – who obviously never sew in their whole life – don’t understand how much effort has to put in making a handmade gift. They don’t realize that it takes hundreds of hours to cut, arrange, sew together, put in layers, quilt, and bind until the quilt is finished. Not to mention fabrics are not cheap! Some quilts can cost up to a thousand USD!
For the last example above, my thought is not to make any more handmade gifts for such people. These people are simply not worthy of the labour. In the defence of my limitation of energy, time, and sanity, I only give handmade gifts to people that I know have high appreciation for handmade things. Others who don’t, would find something from the shopping mall more practical. And even when they fail to say thank you, at least it was just over the Euros, but not over my sweated labour.
For the people we don’t personally know who fail to say thank you when we hold the door open for them – or any deed with similar significance; ignore them and keep doing good things for others, even when you don’t get any acknowledgement. Consider your good deeds as the time when we repay back the kindness we have earlier received from somebody else. Remember, we have to pay it forward!
Teaching ‘thank you’ to my children
Why do I find it’s important to have a thank you from my children? These years, I’ve been struggling in teaching them to eat well – they often talk and play while eating, or complaining that they don’t like this menu or that food. I see that they haven’t realized that every meal is a gift.
Of course I have my own (lame) sentiment that I put a really big effort to keep serving food to my family. I often had to cook in the days towards my surgeries (and afterwards). I don’t want to feed ungrateful entitled brats! Yes, I know I’m not a gentle mama, I’m working myself on it, but no, I refused ungratefulness on my dining table.
The thought that my children would keep this attitude until they are adults makes me dizzy. Perhaps I have yet not had the special chance to get this message through to them, but I believe it’s my obligation to teach gratefulness since their young age.
It’s not easy to teach children. They need to be reminded again and again and again, one hundred and thirteen times, for one single thing. But still we have to do it, we owe it to them because we are the one responsible to the building of their characters.
Repeating the teaching won’t be complete without showing the examples. Show appreciation towards our children! Let them know that their contribution in the household works matter. Let them know that you’re absolutely helped when they lend their helping hands. Say thank you to our children, even for a small gesture of help from them.
Gratefulness, thankfulness, appreciation begins at home. Just like I never forget that precious moment when my mom took her time to explain the meaning of gratefulness to me when I was young, I sincerely hope that my children would remember (as a loving memory and not as a dreadful one, haha) those conversations of ours and keep it as dear value in their lives. Amen.