Friday, November 27, 2009


Mary Schmich wrote about a Zen parable:

A wealthy merchant heard about a school that needed larger quarters, so he went to see the schoolteacher. He offered the teacher a sack of gold. The teacher said he'd take it.

The wealthy man was dissatisfied with the teacher's response. His sack contained a lot of gold, he said. A person could live for a whole year on a fraction of this sum. Even for a rich person, such a large gift was a big deal.

The teacher heard the hint. "Do you want me to thank you for it?" he asked.

"You ought to," said his benefactor.

"Why should I?" asked the teacher. "The giver should be thankful."

It made me think. Recently I had sent someone a gift because his wife had been in an accident. I was surprised that they didn't even acknowledge receipt of the gift...with a 30 second email or something. After reading Schmich's column, I suppose I should be thankful because I was the giver and giving makes me happy.

In real life, though, a simple thank you is not out of line (from the receiver, of course!). I am not talking about thank you note, but a quick email, phone call or even text message should be expected. After all, when you send something, you are not even sure the person received it. When I was in South Africa in June, I sent someone something as a gift and still don't know if she received it. I'd feel rude asking, so I've let it go.

I'm wondering if these people who don't send their thanks are remembering the parable...or if they're just lazy.


Bob Hale said...

In real life it's a mixture of both, but not in any way that's terribly flattering to people in general. Most people, whether they are prepared to admit it or not, do not give gifts because they want the recipient to feel good. They give gifts for the sense of self-satisfaction they get from giving gifts. The bigger the gift the greater the self-satisfaction, hence the more selfish the motive.
The expectation of thanks is an extension of this. The thanks serve two purposes. They reinforce the self-satisfaction and they indicate that the other person is properly humbled by receiving a gift from someone so demonstrably fine.

Cynical little bugger, ain't I?

Kalleh said...

I think you are partly right, though not totally. In other words, it depends.

I don't think I am any more altruistic than the next guy, nor less so, so I might be a good example. I truly love giving gifts for those I care for, and I don't care at all if I get something back, including a "thanks" (though if it's sent in the mail, I do like to know if it's received).

On the other hand, if it's an "obligatory" gift, I suppose that's different. That would be the wedding gift or the "I get you something and you get me something" for Christmas gifts, etc. In those cases, you may be right, at least with some people.