Good manners are instilled in most of us as children. Strong loving families of the past provided the environments needed for growing children. Parents did everything to mold us into responsible children who would grow up to become productive adults.
We were constantly reminded to do the right thing. We were reminded over and over not to do anything to embarrass our family. The lessons taught many years ago have impacted our behavior today. The main source of these lessons was our parents and other family members. However, our schools, churches, community members, playmates, movies, books, radio and television shows also provided us with a sense of what we should or should not do.
Being honest, polite, respectful and caring are things most of us embrace. Treating others as you want to be treated cannot be ignored. So we embraced both the big things and the little things. What we failed to recognize back then was the significance of some of the little things in our interpersonal relationships. I gave considerable thought to one of these little things a few weeks ago as I observed a co-worker performing a task that not too many people do today. She was handwriting notes to friends and acquaintances; it was one of those gestures that create “warm fuzzy feelings” so characteristic of good manners back in the day.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, you may recall that thank-you notes arrived regularly in the mail. You knew it was a thank-you note by the size of the envelope. It was not your typical No. 7 personal-size envelope or a No. 10, business-size. This No. 3-size envelope was a clear giveaway that it was a personal note. People still send handwritten notes, as evidenced by my co-worker. However, they are considerably less frequent than in the past. Some people believe sending such notes is unimportant. To some degree, they have been replaced by emails. This practice is viewed by some as being too impersonal and cannot replace the personal message in a handwritten note. The lame excuse of being too busy is used by some to explain why they no longer send handwritten notes. Then there are those that view this practice as no longer necessary. I can see no acceptable reason for not sending thank-you notes. Is it possible that negligence in sending notes stems from a lack of emphasis on good manners?
A number of my friends and associates consider sending thank-you notes old-fashioned. I do not accept this view. My parents’ words and deeds still allow me to see the value in sending thank-you notes. I vividly remember things I did for others when a thank-you note was in order and I received none. I certainly do not expect thank-you notes in return for all things given or good deeds performed. What I give to or do for someone, I do willingly and comes from a caring attitude. Although I do not expect anything in return, an acknowledgement is always appreciated. II must point out there is nothing more disappointing than one’s kindness or consideration being taken for granted. I shall never forget giving a present to a young man during a visit to his parents’ home. It was a highly collectible game in keeping with the type of items he collected. It was special, and I had no doubt that he and his parents knew it was uniquely special. This occurred more than eight years ago, and while the young man came into the room and personally accepted the gift from me, I am still looking for a verbal expression or written note expressing his appreciation. Now, I did not give this gift to receive a thank-you note; I gave it because I thought it was something he would value and appreciate. While I fully understand that a gift or good deed should not cause me to expect a thank-you note, such a note in this instance would have been special and would have shown common courtesy. I learned a great deal about this young man from this. If he had inadvertently forgotten to send a note, one would have been mandated by his father or mother, had this been back in the day.
I previously wrote about the importance of saying “Thank you” in our everyday activities. While verbal expressions of thanks serve a purpose, written notes are another matter. When someone says “Thank you” in special circumstances, you may feel this is sufficient. Think back in time and quite often, even a verbal thank-you was followed by a written note within a week. However, if you are a bit late in responding, keep in mind the old saying, “It is always better late than never.”
Unlike today, sending a written note was something we were expected to do. Peggy Noe Stevens, a certified protocol and etiquette expert, indicates that a written thank-you note should be given every time one is given a gift, treated to a meal or shown a significant act of kindness. However, according to the 17th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” thank-you notes are not required in all circumstances. They may not be required after being a guest at a dinner party or after a job interview. Some feel that while they may not be required, sending one is still a good idea. Going back to sending a note after you have already thanked someone in person? This is not necessary, but still a good idea. Most authorities believe thank-you notes are required after receiving a gift. This includes wedding, birthday, sympathy, graduation, bridal or baby showers. Being invited to a party in your honor, having stayed as a guest in someone’s home and similar circumstances also call for written thank-you notes. I never recall my mother debating whether or not she should send a thank-you note, regardless of the circumstance. Sending a note that spelled out the reason for the thanks was part of the natural process of showing appreciation.
In order to send a personal, handwritten note, one must first have personal stationery. Do not be embarrassed if you are like most people I know who do not have stationery for personal notes. If you are inclined to send a thank-you note, quite often it ends up being a pre-printed card with impersonal words that do not show the personal aspects of handwritten notes. The second problem too many young people have today is their inability to express their thoughts in writing, in a clear, concise and thoughtful manner. Can you still see your mother or father sitting at the kitchen table with a favorite fountain pen, several boxes of blank notes with designs for every occasion, and a dictionary, preparing to express their thanks to someone? In spite of the limited formal education of many of our ancestors, they still sent handwritten thank-you notes. Incomplete sentences and misspelled words took a back seat to their efforts to express their thanks in such a personal manner; providing details of the gift or act of kindness.
Some will argue that sending thank-you notes is time-consuming. Has it occurred to you that if someone took time to buy you something or perform a good deed, then it is worth the time to take a few minutes to write a thank-you note? Some will argue that the handwritten note has been impacted by technology. What we find are people using the Internet, sending emails expressing their thanks. Of course, this was not an option during our parents’ era. Had this technology been available to them, I suspect they would have still opted to put their thoughts on paper to express their gratitude. Personally, I see no circumstances where an email can serve in place of a handwritten thank-you note. So, while some of you may feel that emails and e-cards may save money as well as trees, let me encourage you to revive the practice of handwritten notes. After all, people do not typically save emails or e-cards. Thank-you notes, on the other hand, are not only saved but may be end up on your refrigerator door or in some other place of prominence. Receiving a thank-you note in today’s environment is unexpected. By sending such a note, you will stand out from the crowd and it will give you the chance to express your warm feelings of thanks. It will also make those giving gifts and the doers of good deeds feel good — the way people used to feel, back in the day.