Appreciating Appreciation

A couple of weeks ago, a gentleman in Tennessee said something to me that opened my eyes and made me think about something that is with us all the time, but yet we never see.

I had sent him a tobacco pipe for repair, and if I liked the job he did, I had a larger repair project for him. He did an excellent job—I couldn’t imagine it being done better—and I called him to tell him so. When we’d finished our conversation, he said something no one has ever said to me before.

Most of the time, we are told, ‘thanks, I appreciate it,’ and it’s really a polite brush-off phrase. One can never be sure whether this ‘brush off’ is an expression of modesty, or just a matter of negligence. Compliments and congratulations often are given as a matter of course, and are expressed so often that they’ve lost their meaning. ‘Thank you’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘take care’, and my personal bête noire, the waiter’s meaningless refrain, ‘Enjoy!’—do they actually mean this, or is this noise to fill a silence?

The man in Tennessee said something that could only be intentionally forthright: ‘Thank you, I appreciate YOU.’

We don’t sincerely express ourselves to others often enough. Statements of affection and gratitude we may utter have become elisions of meaning and not expressions of feeling. I know the waiter who just brought me my lunch isn’t really too concerned whether I enjoy my skirt steak or not, so long as I pay the bill, and the person for whom I’ve just done a favour probably didn’t give the act a second thought when s/he said, ‘I appreciate it.’ (Actually, ‘’preciate it.’)

When you mess up, be sure the world is not going to overlook it. You will hear about it for a long time. If you mess up or do something ‘outside the box’ publicly enough, you can be sure your detractors will be vocal, even if they didn’t understand what it is you did.

If you do something right or praiseworthy, you may well find yourself wondering if anyone noticed.

It would be wonderful if people were more vocal and thoughtful about their positive feelings and attitudes. It would be really nice if ‘take care’ were a genuine expression of desire for your wellbeing, and not a cursive substitute for ‘buzz off.’ There is a responsibility behind such genuine utterances—don’t say ‘I’m sorry,’ and then laugh at the misfortune. If you say ‘I like you,’ to someone, then treat that person with the friendliness and sincerity that ‘liking someone’ signifies. The words are meant to be the expression of the feeling.

In a former life, I presided at a number of memorial services, and talked with a lot of people about grief. One of the most frequent statements made was a variation on, ‘I never told him….’ It’s quite likely, and very sad, that a large number of people go to their graves thinking they are unloved, disliked, or unappreciated, never knowing the truth. The truth is not meant to be a secret, but it often is, and lies are more common.

The world is not going to change because I said so. I do hope people will begin to consider what they say, how they mean it, and express themselves honestly, but I have no great anticipation.

I think it would be nice if people learnt to appreciate themselves. Recently a blog was posted in which the writer demonstrated a new skill, and then referred to his own efforts in the most insulting and degrading of terms. His efforts, actually, were quite good, and I wonder if his negativity put off readers who might like to have said, ‘Hey, good job!’

Whereas you may donate blood and be told, ‘Thanks, have a cookie and don’t leave for half an hour,’ consider what you’ve done—you’ve given something quite literally of yourself, and that will help someone else live. Appreciate that, and what that act of kindness says about you as a person. Let that help you grow. And be sincere in your appreciations—you may well be doing for yourself something others forgot to do.

‘Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.’ ― Voltaire

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