Saying Thank You

It was a simple piece of paper setting on Ms. Shaw’s desk when she entered her sixth-grade class.  But the words on the paper, and the character they portrayed defined a life.

“Ms. Shaw, thank you for being so kind to Akeera yesterday when the other girls were making fun of her.  Akeera feels ashamed that her clothes are handmade.  But you made her proud of what she had.  I hope I’ll always be kind to others. – Josie”

Josie was a thoughtful and kind person.  She liked to convey thanks to others.  Her thank you notes to those who were helpful to her became the act that defined her as a person.  Throughout her school years, she would send thank you notes to teachers for things that were special to her.  They were never about grades or compliments.  Instead, they focused on small acts of kindness that Josie observed, often directed toward classmates and not herself.  Her notes always mentioned the act of kindness, and in many cases the teachers were amazed that Josie even noticed the act.

When Josie began her career, she continued sharing thank you notes.  Some were for guidance she received.  For these, she always mentioned how the guidance worked.  Again, she sent thank you notes for acts of kindness she observed.  In most cases, these were acts of kindness directed toward another person, not herself.

As time went on, Josie rose in responsibility in her career.  Her thank you notes continued, but her responsibilities gave her fewer chances to see directly the acts of kindness she liked to recognize.  She asked her subordinates to send her prompts for thank you notes.  She put aside time each day to write thank you notes.  But she started to see fewer and fewer prompts.  Her subordinates started writing the thank you notes themselves following the example that Josie set.  Her subordinates also began to be more aware of situations which deserved thank you notes.  This phenomenon then cascaded through the organization.

Business analysts just couldn’t understand how Josie’s organization consistently led the industry in business fundamentals but also in work culture, employee retention, hiring success rates, etc.  When Josie retired, she received deeply felt thank you notes from all 33,627 employees in the organization.

The small act of sending a thank you note can have lasting impacts.  Many of these notes become what we cherish as we go through life.  The notes don’t have to be fancy.  A note on a scrap of paper can be as effective as one from a Hallmark store.  They don’t have to be handwritten.  They do need to be genuine and focused on a specific act of kindness.  Some acts are obvious reasons for thank you notes:  gifts, words of encouragement, opportunities, etc.  But the thank you notes that have the greatest impact are for small acts of kindness that fit the moment.  These are the acts of kindness that reveal how genuine a person is but are rarely recognized for what they are:  the extension of genuine kindness for no other reason than being a decent human being.

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The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”  -Dalai Lama

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Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.