A dozen years ago, when I was just starting out on my professional journey, I worked as a senior writer in the Nortel Networks international IT marketing/ communications team. Life was good, salaries were soaring, and I was learning a crucial business acumen that has carried me through the years.
Indeed, I was one of thousands of techie employees laid off in the dot com bust in the early years of the new millennium, and in retrospect, my colleagues and I should’ve seen it coming. We went from ridiculously high annual and project bonuses to an operational concept the bigwigs called the “Thank You Culture.”
As part of the Corporate Communications team, I wrote about and encouraged it all the time. But it wasn’t until after I left Nortel and moved into the non-profit world that I truly came to appreciate the concept.
It’s really very simple in nature: find one thing to thank a different person for every day. In the Nortel setting, it was easy to replace the bonus with a hearty “thank you.” Granted, it didn’t spend the same, but the gesture was there, and thank you really does go a long way.
When I worked in Theatre, we were always busy and stressed with deadlines. I managed all kinds of print vendors and was writing commercials and designing playbills … high stress situations always entered the picture when vendors were late, or the set wasn’t ready far enough ahead of time. Complaints were lobbed like baseballs. And then, when I moved into the most stressful job I have ever had–grantwriter and public affairs officer for an organization supporting, housing and advocating for individuals living with HIV/AIDS–I realized that “thank you” was a foreign concept.
I’ve never been shy to make a complaint or advocate for someone unable to do so for themselves. But being on the receiving end of complaints, and just hearing others complain, is terrible. So I have always tried to temper my complaints with compliments.
For example, I don’t ever make a complaint without including some type of suggestion; and when I do complain, I try to do it as respectfully as possible. When I make formal complaints, I never do it anonymously. First of all, I find that to be incredibly cowardly. Secondly, I want you to talk to me and see if we can figure out a happy medium.
And I go out of my way to try to thank others. Whether it’s at a restaurant, at work, at home … I am vocal in my appreciation. At first, the Nortel Thank You Culture project was remedial. Now, it’s just ingrained and I never think about it; I thank on the fly.
My son’s 12, and he’s also a very thankful person. I’m proud of his manners, and never worry that he’ll be horrible when we go out. He is, after all, the greatest masterpiece by my husband and I.
I was especially moved by President Obama’s speech in Tucson this week. I appreciate that the big cheese himself pointed out the importance of listening to each other, being kind and respectful, and being appreciative when we can find similarities.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
Who needs constant complaining and sniping? At the end of the day, aren’t we all just Americans, and don’t we all have hopes and dreams and opinions? Don’t we all have families and friends we love and care for, and want them to do the same for us? It should not be so radical a concept that this was new information for some people.
But it was, so if you’re an optimist with a kind streak like I am, give ’em time. They gotta shake loose the cobwebs of kindness and empathy … but they’ll get it eventually. It’s so easy to say thank you, especially when you’ve had a little practice.
(And if they don’t, THEN you can get ’em. I’ve always found more success in business when I go in with a smile. It puts people off-guard, and more apt to listen if you actually have to unleash your inner bitch.)
Don’t forget to smile, and don’t forget to say thank you. Bless your heart.