#39: Why do we like the ‘thank you’ so much?
I love the ‘thank you’. I like giving it. I like receiving it. I think we need more of it. I also like the quick and efficient apology, for essentially the same reasons.
First, two considerations:
- As someone who’s lived a third of his life in Canada, I can’t not start by acknowledging that Canadians have a comical reputation of being over-apologetic over-apologizers. It’s true. It’s a thing. It’s fodder and it’s funny and low-hanging fruit for anyone compiling jokes aimed at countries and their people. But even if you’re someone who doesn’t apologize often, or someone who’s confused by the excusemesorrymybad choir, there’s really nothing vexing about it. It’s fine. It’s nice. People are polite to each other. At least in public.
- With a question like this it’s also pretty tempting to think about how our thank yous and apologies have in many ways and in many situations become automatic, knee-jerk type responses. We don’t have to think about saying them as they just come blurting out anyway. I can’t argue with that. I don’t want to argue with that. It doesn’t really compromise why I like the ‘thank you’. In fact, I think it actually kind of helps.
Everything I’ve said so far has the implicit supposition that we’re talking about small things when it comes to thank yous and apologies. You know what I’m talking about: accidentally stepping in front of someone on the sidewalk, or inadvertently dropping a coin on the counter when you go to pay, or when someone holds the elevator door open for you, or when another human being hands you a physical object of any kind (and a thousand more examples) — that’s when the sorry or thank you in the chamber comes flying out. Some cultures do it more fervently and frequently than others, and everyone’s degree of instinctive automation is different.
But that’s not why — or rather, that’s not when — I love the thank you and apology. I love the small thank you, and the quick apology, for the big things.
Isn’t it curious how we’re so ready to serve up an apology when any number of trivial things occur, but when we do something that we know — or have been told — was wrong, or hurtful, the apologies tend to get dispensed with more reluctance, or not at all. I’m not sure why. I certainly apologize all the time. I do it for the big things and the little things, in the same way and in the same manner. Perhaps because I’m following the Golden Rule. I do it because that’s what I would like from others. If I’m hurt, or irked, or upset by the behaviour of anyone, big or small, the faster they throw me a quick apology, the faster I get over it. And the longer they don’t, the deeper my resentments grow. I don’t need a grovelling apology for anything, and thus I do not give any such apology out either. Just a quick and dirty, but sincere, I’m sorry.
The issue of sincerity in thank yous and apologies is a whole other canal to climb into, but I’m opting not to do that here. No time.
Finally, we have the the ‘thank you’. Same deal, same reasons. Big or small, I say thank you. Just fucking say thank you more often to people. It’s a magical expression. It bonds people. And that’s why we like it so much.