Why I Don’t Say Thank You.

Via Laura Marjorie Miller
on Aug 21, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Minding My Matrika

“Thank you emphasizes a separation, a duality, when really we are all one, so why should we not perform kindnesses for each other?”

In Emma Bull’s fine urban fantasy novel War for the Oaks, the heroine experiences an unexpectedly socially awkward moment when she thanks a phouka who is her protector and companion for a good turn he has done her. He looks deeply uncomfortable, and when she bewilderedly wonders why, he informs her gently that it is considered bad manners to thank faeries.

Faeries don’t say ‘Thank you,’ and they don’t expect to be thanked. The phouka doesn’t explain why. Knowing there must be a good reason, I went in search for why. The best I was able to come up with, raking through the sands of faerie lore on the Internet and in all my books, was that saying ‘Thank you’ emphasizes a separation, a duality, when really we are all one, so why should we not perform kindnesses for each other? We may as well thank each other for breathing. That makes perfect sense to me, but it was only one source (that I wish I could remember). Surely then, I thought, there might be other reasons.

If saying ‘Thank you’ is actually bad manners, what makes it so? I started listening to the moments I said ‘Thank you,’ and when other people say ‘Thank you’ to me, in precisely those words. I started to notice how often we say ‘Thank you’ or some variant thereof when we mean anything but.

How often do you get off the telephone with the bank or some such necessary evil, and the person you have been speaking to says ‘Thank you’? But what are they thanking you for? Your time? Your patience? Why do they even say it? More than anything it is usually just a tag, a flag which actually means, ‘Okay, we’re done here,’ that tells you the conversation is through. But it is not to express gratitude.

Then of course there was my temperamental former roommate who would punctuate an email to me about some beef she had around the house with a terse ‘Thanks.’ Now, I know she wasn’t thanking me for anything. I don’t even know why she bothered to write that word, usually because it followed a nasty screed. It fell like a thud at the end of her correspondence, an impotent gesture of etiquette, a sign signifying nothing.

But beyond listening to others, most importantly I started listening to myself. I was surprised how often those words came to my lips as a quick reflex, more as punctuation than anything else. I could have stopped saying it altogether, but not everyone perceives a nondual world, and people deserve to be appreciated when they are sweet. So I started trying to exercise other ways of saying it that conveyed what I actually meant. I became fond of ‘I really appreciate it!’ or ‘I couldn’t have done it without you!’ or ‘WOW! That is the best sweater EVER! I can’t wait to wear it!’ Sometimes I overdo the effusion. But I like trying to come up with something new. At least, with something that expresses appreciation but would not offend a faerie.

It’s a good exercise, as is anything which makes you more aware. For if the words you use ring false, if no-one is thanking anyone really, then words like that are better to be avoided. Perhaps that is what made the phouka squirm. Who wants to be given something offhand and thoughtlessly?

I am not advocating a reversion to rudeness. But it is surely preferable when offering someone your precious breath, the gift of your voice and language, to use words that actually mean something. Mind your matrika. Make what you say mindful and purposeful, truthful and appropriate. Don’t say ‘Thank you’ when you don’t mean it. Don’t say it as rote when you mean something else instead. Hear yourself. Hear what you say, really. Be sincere. Be creative, expressive, original, fresh, intelligent, and new. Make your beautiful speech and writing, make your words and meaning, not society’s, but your own.


About Laura Marjorie Miller

Laura Marjorie Miller writes about travel, Yoga, magic, myth, fairy tales, photography, marine conservation, and other soulful subjects. She is a regular columnist at elephantjournal.com, contributing editor at Be You Media, and a public-affairs writer at UMass Amherst. Her work has appeared at Tripping, GotSaga, Dive News Network, and MariaShriver.com, in Yankee Magazine, the Boston Globe and Parabola. She is based in Massachusetts, where she lives with a cat named Huck. You can find her on twitter at bluecowboyyoga.


9 Responses to “Why I Don’t Say Thank You.”

  1. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Laura once again immediately brings us to another world where fairies are faeries and fantasy reigns. What a lovely image of beings that are so accustomed to caring for and loving each other that there are no words necessary to denote that. Just thinking about that fills me with gratitude and reminds me that a faerie kingdom starts one faerie at a time.

  2. Ben Ralston says:

    Thank you Laura, beautiful article. Very interesting and thought provoking… reminds me that a spiritual practice is so much more than ‘on the mat’, or even during practice time. To be mindful is a 24hour practice!

    Love, Ben

  3. yoginiklea says:

    I am reminded in reading this article on my last trip to India to practice Iyengar Yoga in Pune when a student said “thank you” to one of the teachers at the institute and was immediately reprimanded. The teacher essentially told the student that she was doing her duty and the teaching was not personal to student per se and for the student to think so was arrogant on her part. I certainly gained a new perspective on “thank you”.

  4. anniegirl1138 says:

    Even though I worked not to take teaching personally as a teacher, teaching itself is personal. When I have been thanked for my efforts, I took it as a compliment b/c a student doesn't owe me thanks and when one take the time to thank me, I know made an impact was deeper than the eye could see.

  5. glitrbug says:

    The discussed this very issue on "The Closer" last week. Another southern gal told Brenda that she wasn't fooling her when she said "Thank you" in that singsongy voice. She knew Brenda really meant quite the opposite.

  6. Linda-Sama says:

    I go to South India every year and have learned some Tamil. I asked my friend how to say "thank you" in Tamil. She said, "don't bother. we never say thank you. you Americans say it too much."

    just sayin'

  7. Deborah says:

    Hmmm… what a new thought. Enlightment to ponder

  8. Tasha says:

    When I was in Nepal, I was also told "Thank you" was overused in America and that they very rarely say it, unless a tremendous task has been done that took excessive efforts on behalf of the person. Saying thank you to a server or a taxi driver was not expected or even appreciated, as they were "just doing their job" and the thanks was their pay, and the knowledge that they were serving their duty, purpose or dharma in the world. I wonder if the excessive thanking in America is because we always expect to be rewarded for our efforts, as opposed to working without the expectations of the "fruits of our labors" as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita? Interesting thoughts…

  9. GiseleM says:

    The misuse should not justify the non-use of the word. Follow the heart!! In recent years, my heart grew in favor of always saying 'Thank you'. Even my corporate correspondence ends with Thank You. I was asked in several occasions why "thank you" if I was the person to be thanked for (i.e. I was the one solving an issue, etc). And the answer is "Thank you for the opportunity to assist you." Thank you for reminding me that there is always a solution… Thank you for the opportunity to exercise my wisdom… Thank you for showing me that I do not know it all… Endless reasons to thank those that come across our paths… Love!