“Thank you” and “Sorry” are overused and overvalued, and often meaningless or misconstrued. Think about a child who receives a gift and you tell them, as their parent, that they should say, “Thank you.” Do we really think the child means it? Or are they just doing as they’re told? When a child does something bad, and we tell them to say they’re sorry, do we really think they are? I’ve interacted with enough people, young and old, to know that when people say they’re sorry, they’re often not. They’re just saying that to get out of the situation. I mean, I’ve certainly done this countless times. I don’t want to deal with you and your nonsense, “I’m sorry.” Trespass forgiven. Give me a horrible gift, do something for me that I didn’t want done or could have done myself without all the grief, “Thank you.” These snippet phrases that are imbued with such meaning are largely meaningless. Societal customs need to be revamped and revisited. Especially in this day and age of “communication” via social media, these assertions are void of heartfelt expression, at least to me. It’s kind of like saying, “Bless you” or “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes – why do we do that? What does it even mean? Are we just so in need of having to hear ourselves, or feel as if we’re compassionate soles that we must respond to everything? Does every bodily noise elicit a response? What is appropriate for gas? Yawns? Hiccups?
“Sorry” to me is weird in other contexts, too. For instance, when someone dies, why is it our practice to say, “I’m sorry for your loss”? Yes, we should be empathetic humans and have concern for other’s wellbeing, but just why, tell me, are we sorry? Sorry implies fault. We’re not at fault (usually) when someone else dies. It’s just so odd. One time I heard a co-worker say in response to the passing of someone, “I hate hearing that.” That seems more accurate and appropriate. I don’t want to hear about bad things happening to good people, so of course I would hate hearing the news. But I wouldn’t be sorry. I’d be sorry if I clogged your toilet or burned down your house. But in those situations, that phrase might not be enough. But somehow it is for a death. Strange…
Thinking back on all the sweaters and socks I got as gifts as a child, and all the thank you’s I had to administer as a result of those gifts, why couldn’t I have said what I really wanted to say? “What? Socks for a 10-year old boy? Are you crazy? Why would socks be a good gift? If you took that $10 you spent on socks and just given it to me so I could buy exactly what I wanted, you wouldn’t look like an idiot, I would have truly appreciated the gift, and we could be on our way. But no, you thought socks would be a good choice for a child. I’m sorry you’re such an idiot, because had you not been, I’d have some baseball cards now.” Ah, wouldn’t that have been nice to tell Aunt Winona?
This reminds me of a comic strip I once saw. It went like this (Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis): Mouse: “I’m gonna start apologizing to all the people I’ve insulted by telling them, ‘I’m sorry you were offended.’” Pig: “Is that a real apology?” Mouse: “No. That’s what’s so great. It allows me to retain the impact of the original insult while tacking on the implied bonus insult of, ‘You are an oversensitive ninny.’” Pig: “But that’s kinda rude cause it’s sorta saying the guy is too dumb to realize that.” Mouse: “I’m sorry that you were offended.” Pig: “Apology accepted.” For me, people are too sensitive, yet at the same time we’re a vapid species that buys into banal customs that are void of any real meaning. Maybe we should stop saying please, thank you and sorry, and get to what we really mean, which is of course different in every single situation. So how can one phrase be considered a catch-all?
When I really want to thank someone, I don’t feel it comes through adequately in that phrase. It comes through in my actions. When I have aggrieved someone, I don’t feel that a sorry will do. An action must follow. So really what these empty phrases serve as are vessels of ease. We want the easy way out, and the times when we most shouldn’t take them, we’ve crafted a culturally accepted and expected way to do so, and then we train our children to make things right by doing very little other than uttering a short and trite response. It is sad that a phrase exists at all that expresses sincere gratitude or deep concern for another’s wellbeing. In fact, that a phrase exists at all suggests we, as a society, do not know how to convey these feelings. Maybe we should work on that. But where do we go?
I’m not an overly emotionally expressive guy, so when you do touch my heartstrings, I usually will follow it up with a letter or note. The two words in “I’m sorry” or “thank you” pale in comparison to a missive directed to the other party; this is something we’ve lost in the age of social media and the web. It takes time to write a note. It allows you to think your way through the issue, put it all out there, making sure no stone is left unturned. It also lasts forever, if you want it to. When we say “thank you” or I’m sorry,” those phrases are ephemeral; they vanish into thin air. But a heartfelt note lingers on into the ages, and does a much better job expressing what we feel. It allows us to go out behind a publically presented and protected persona, and to let out a little of that gushy humanity that we all are often oblivious to. Sorry’s and thank you’s can then mean something because we’ve invested in the dissemination of something bigger than two words that equate to a hall pass or get out of jail free card.
Don’t tell me thank you or that you’re sorry, even if you think you are. I’ve heard it all before. I’ve said it too many times to count. Either don’t respond to my gift or your transgression and go on with your life, or do something that matters, that shows you actually considered what you did – or what I did, and invest in the relationship by putting what you really mean on to paper. Yes, words are great in their spoken form, but we take shortcuts all throughout our life (emoji’s anyone?), and unfortunately this is common practice in verbal dialog. Unless you can convey what you really mean – and really should say in person, then don’t just try to “get it over with.” Find another route, write it down. Just as we don’t understand how to express these supposedly heartfelt statements accurately, sometimes we don’t want to even hear them in the first place. A note or letter allows the receiving party the opportunity to take in your thoughts in their due time, and to hold on to them for as long as they’d like.