My friend Jesse shared a recording of a talk he gave recently called “When generosity turns to rage, and what to do about it.” You can listen here.
It’s about how we can intend to be generous and then become angry at the way someone responds to our gift. It’s a call to treat others compassionately and offer welcome without expectation of reward, and how to deal productively with your feelings when the ugly stuff surfaces anyway (as it often will).
It is an important message.
Many of us struggle with finding balance between caring for ourselves so we can be effective and making ourselves available to others because we value giving and sharing. So, when we do prioritize helping someone, and we don’t feel appreciated, it can be painful.
Jesse’s talk was a good reminder that so much of the negativity that roils in our minds is our own making. Yes, we should trust our inner teacher to surface for us when we’re truly being taken advantage of. It’s a nasty feeling that tends to make itself known readily after repeated interactions with someone with ill will.
But we must remember and respect that different people express gratitude differently.
For example, while it may be my practice to write a florid thank you note after being invited to give a conference talk, it’s not a standard, and it certainly doesn’t mean that other ways of expressing thanks are not legitimate and valuable.
It may be that the best way a person thinks they can thank you for an opportunity to speak is by pouring themselves into preparing for the talk by dedicating hours to writing the clearest version of what they want to say, by rehearsing it so it is delivered powerfully, and by ultimately giving the talk.
After all, that’s what you asked for, right? Not the note.
Now, I am concerned about the incivility I hear daily. Our connectedness makes it as easy for poisonous words to spread as compassionate ones, and the poison often gets a lot of play. Name-calling and body-shaming and othering have become heartbreakingly de rigueur.
And I do happen to have a regular practice of writing thank you notes and reaching out privately to individuals who have given me opportunities.
It is a core hope that we might all value expressing gratitude to the people who have helped us.
But that is with the strong caveat that humans express gratitude differently, and with an understanding that it’s useless for me to judge another person’s expression. There is so much I cannot see. Gratitude can be expressed privately because of the personality of the giver or the preferences of the recipient.
And ultimately, I take Jesse’s words to heart: remember my intention. I didn’t do the kind thing because I wanted praise or expected gratitude in a certain form. The expression of gratitude is lagniappe–a precious extra gift that makes the world a little softer and gentler.
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them… but when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
As far as we can tell, this was originally intended as clear direction about the particular act of almsgiving to some of Christ’s early followers. I’m not very religious, but since childhood, I’ve cherished these words.
There is so much that I do to help others that the public is not aware of, and, to my preference, it never will be. Like Jesse, I give a lot of my time and money away to help strangers in specific and actionable ways–as a mentor, sponsor, counsel, and advocate.
Sure, I’ll always appreciate a thank you note or a public announcement that something I’ve done has made a real difference in your life. Your specificity helps me quiet my very real, daily inner harasser that insists I’m not good enough and don’t deserve to be here.
We are all poor in some way, seeking the company and counsel and charity of others to move towards wholeness.
But ultimately, I seek to give away some of my power in supporting you because I believe in your message and the way you personally can make a lasting difference in our shared world. As long as you and I live under the same sun, anything you do to promote peace and understanding and compassion and justice will benefit me. So go on and keep doing that, please, and know that I’ll feel it somehow.
No thank you note required.