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The Melting Pot

A digital, cultural conversation

Thanks, Veterans. Image from colonialmotel.us

This blog has been brewing in my head for the past few days – ever since Veterans Day. Why, you ask? Well, I have an ongoing dilemma with the prospect of saying “thanks” to veterans.

My problem is this: I want to, more than almost any other social interaction I could ever wish for, be able to walk up to people who served our country, and tell them that I really appreciate what they did for the US, and without people like them, I wouldn’t be here.

But I just can’t. Every time I tell myself that today is going to be the day that I’m going to do it, I chicken out and cower behind a bush until the moment passes and I can go feel bad for not just saying thank you for the next month. The thing is, it’s difficult. I don’t want to upset a veteran, and I don’t want to bring up the delicate subject of war to someone who really doesn’t want to talk about it. But at the same time, I know I want to say it, for him or her to know that she is appreciated. After all, that’s the core of humanity: gratitude.

Friday, on Veterans Day, I experienced a bubble of excitement. Facebook could solve all my problems! I thought to myself. I could update my status with “Thank you, veterans” and an accompanying YouTube clip and all the guilt would float off my chest! (Note to readers: if you ever think Facebook can solve all your problems, you need to turn around and re-evaluate your life.)

False. I’d be exactly where I started, feeling exactly the same way. How can a superficial Facebook status, where importance is ranked based on likes, ever compare to what these men and women have given to us? It would almost be an insult for me to even try to reply with that form of communication.

The kind of thanks I think a veteran deserves is not something that can be mailed – it’s an in-person expression of gratitude, accompanied by a handshake. After all, what veterans did for our country was so personal – they gave up years of their lives and risked their safety. I think that though it can never measure up to what they have given us, directly saying “thank you” is the only equivalent to their efforts.

From generation to generation - thanks. Image from powip.com

So, it seems the art of the thank you is ever-changing.

It evolved from religion and philosophy as the ultimate expression of gratitude, and one of the most basic and thoughtful forms of human communication. Society drilled thank yous into our minds, and American culture especially uses it as retorts for most tasks done by other people in our favor.

Now, thank yous are used in quick email signatures, haphazard mass texts, Facebook comments and Twitter mentions. The expression of gratitude gets thrown around like someone’s old football – not at all the personalized, almost sacred form of appreciation it was meant to be.

It seems that two simple words can’t possibly cover all the new forms of evolving gratitude now. The ones requiring more effort should naturally warrant a better form of gratitude, not the same two words that a co-worker gets after sending you an attachment of something due an hour ago.

Any task higher than a Level 4 should warrant a face-to-face thank you.

Because of its overuse, the thank you has become slowly devalued and really not synonymous with appreciation anymore. People will use a thank you when they don’t actually mean it – just because it’s a social staple to reply with a thanks and a smiley face emoticon. So the actual form of gratitude disappears under the cloak of what was once a great way to let someone know you appreciate what he or she did.

And with that, we become a thankless culture. We’re too involved in our own worlds with arbitrary gratitude to stop and see that as we push away true, meaningful gratitude in lieu of superficial words, we become more alone than ever before in our changing world. But mostly, with the death of real, face-to-face gratitude, we are losing the most treasured form of interaction, and the appreciation for everything that is good about humankind.

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