The Power of Gratitude
We usually thank others when they give us something; but our gratitude itself can be a gift.
“Waste no more time in arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius
She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke and the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk. The large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in the pants. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.
She continued to hold him until he picked up her purse and then she said, “Now ain’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Firmly gripped by his shirt front, the boy said, “Yes’m.”
“If I turn you loose, will you run?” asked the woman.
“Yes’m,” said the boy.
“Then I won’t turn you loose,” said the woman. She did not release him.
“I’m very sorry, lady, I’m sorry,” whispered the boy.
“Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to tell you to wash your face?”
“No’m,” said the boy.
“Then it will get washed this evening. When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.”
So she took him to her sparsely-furnished studio apartment in a half-nelson, got his name (Roger) and instructed him to wash his face.
She found out that he, like her, hadn’t had his supper yet (remember — it was 11 o’clock). But that he did want a pair of blue suede shoes.
“Well, you didn’t have to snatch my pocketbook to get some suede shoes,” said Mrs. Luella Bates
Washington Jones. “You could’ve asked me.”
She heated some lima beans and ham she had in the icebox, made the cocoa, and set the table. The woman did not ask the boy anything about where he lived, or his folks, or anything else that would embarrass him. Instead, as they ate, she told him about her job in a hotel beauty-shop.
When they were finished eating she got up and said, “Now, here, take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes. And next time, do not make the mistake of latching onto my pocketbook nor nobody else’s.”
She led him down the hall to the front door and opened it. “Good-night! Behave yourself, boy!”
The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you, ma’am” to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, but he couldn’t as he turned at the barren stoop and looked back at the large woman in the door. He barely managed to say “Thank you” before she shut the door.
And he never saw her again.
The Meaning of Gratitude
The above was an abridged version of a short story by Langston Hughes called “Thank You, Ma’am.” Young Roger received a gift from Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones that was far more valuable than the ten dollars. Roger was given the gift of dignity, respect, and the ability to make his own decisions.
We’re taught from a young age to show respect and gratitude by saying “please” and “thank you.” And to show how special those words are and the effect they can have, what did our parents call them? “Magic words.”
“Can I have a glass of water?” you might ask them. And the reply would invariably be: “What's the magic word?”
In recent years, when someone says “thank you,” I regularly hear other people respond with:
Or when the host of an audio program thanks a guest for being on, they say “Thank you for having me.”
Whatever happened to “you’re welcome”?
When you say “you’re welcome” to someone who wants to thank you, you’re giving them a gift. It shows that you acknowledge their gratitude, not that you’re simply reciprocating with a matching reply.
The words we choose matter. Whether we’re saying them to customers, employees, colleagues, friends, or family members. The way we treat others is what comes back to us.
Our world of texting, messaging, and general electronic shorthand may have devalued the principles of respect, consideration, and honesty. Regardless of the mode of communication, these are timeless and universal.
To strengthen relationships, we should make those principles clear in every interaction.
Yes, even to Alexa.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero
For it is through those repeated interactions, those repetitions of timeless and universal principles that our customers and peers will see us as that which we wish to be.
I’m so glad to have your thoughtful and patient attention, this week and always. I'm grateful that you’re here.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.