Family Talk: Saying thanks
I loved being in Boy Scouts, both as a boy and later as an adult leader. I learned many good things about camping, patriotism, leadership and life. But one of the funny little lessons that stuck with me was learning to say “thank you.”
While working on my Second Class badge, I was required to learn about “The Tools of a Woodsman” (Page 170 for those of you reading along in the 1965 version of the Boy Scout Handbook). Instructions for handling the knife and the ax were detailed, including these admonitions on “Using Your Hand Ax”:
"Remember that not only wood, but people as well, can get chopped. Pass the ax to another person with its harmless end first, that is, handle first, ax head down.”
The last instruction about passing the ax received a lot of attention from my instructor. I was taught, when receiving an ax from someone to say, “Thank you,” which indicated I had a grip on the ax. The person passing the ax was supposed to say, “You're welcome,” signaling that they were going to release their grip, and it was all in my hands. We were taught, for safety reasons, if the receiving person did not say, “Thank you,” we were not to release the ax. The code word had to be spoken. It wasn't just about being polite. The words “Thank you” signified I had received something and was ready to assume responsibility for it. The “You're welcome” signified the other guy was letting go.
It was a small lesson, among many learned in Scouts, but it has stuck with me for half a century. When something is placed in your hand, you say “thank you” to acknowledge you have received it.
Parents often remind their small children, “What do you say?” as a reminder to say thanks. But how many parents teach their children how to sincerely communicate their gratitude? A business advisory company, the Dilenschneider Group, published a little book entitled “The Underappreciated Art of Saying Thank You,” which included these tips:
• Smile and make eye contact. Nothing says insincerity more than a mumbled thank you from someone who doesn't even bother to look you in the eye.
• Don't overdo it. Gushing makes nearly everyone uncomfortable. Acknowledge speciﬁcally what someone did for you but don't go into your life story.
• Be grateful, be pleasant and be brief. Above all else, be sincere.
• Write a thank-you note for a gift, a meal or any other extraordinary act of kindness. In our email-driven culture, a written note is special. It should be prompt, it should be personal and it should speciﬁcally mention the act that inspired the “thank you” and what it meant to you.
• Do it yourself. Do not delegate sending a note of thanks to someone else. It only means something special if it comes from you.
Thanksgiving is a great time to start a new habit. When you receive something, say thank you, whether you're thanking God or others. It's mandatory with axes in the Boy Scouts. It should be mandatory in all things in life.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at email@example.com.