Recently I had one of those extraordinary moments that occurs in the middle of the most mundane parts of life. I was checking out at the grocery store. The bagger was an older gentleman—probably in his mid-seventies. His head was down looking at the work he was doing for me, and his expression was neutral. Not sad, but certainly not joyful either. I managed to catch his eyes, and I told him thank you for helping me.
The world stopped. For an instant, there was a look of surprise on his face as though no one had ever expressed thanks to him for the service he offers. He was visibly caught off guard.
He looked up at me, and his eyes sparkled with his smile. As he finished helping me, he struck up a nice conversation. He became more than a bagger; he was another human being with a story all his own. He became four dimensional, and our worlds intersected in a way that has become rare in the tech-world we all live in.
I was taken aback at the power of such an ordinary moment. Hearing someone say thank you visibly shook that man to his core. It made me feel both happy that something so small as saying “thank you” could impart such a dramatic change in someone’s demeanor, but also sad that expressing thanks to people is such a rare event in our world. Gratitude is becoming less and less common in a culture that glorifies criticism and shouts, “The world owes me.”
It seems like a small thing, saying thank you. But is it? Gratitude is powerful. Small, yes. But seismic in its ability to impact the social landscape around us.
Most of us can be quick to correct and criticize when they have it wrong. We said paper, not plastic. We ordered a decaf grande skinny peppermint mocha with whip, and we didn’t get our whipped cream. We asked to be transferred to customer service, not billing. We make it our mission to ensure the “injustice” doesn’t happen to someone else. Often in our correction, we forget the humanity of the person on the receiving end.
Just because we have freedom of speech in the United States doesn’t mean we should say whatever we want. In a world that increasingly expresses every negative thing we see and feel, gratitude and encouragement are becoming rare jewels that shine hope into dark places.
Being thankful does not take away the warts of the world. We will experience the failings of others, and maybe gentle correction will be needed. However, we can still express gratitude. Expressing sincere thanks to the people we encounter every day highlights the good and diminishes the ugly. Gratitude and encouragement breathe life into those it’s being offered to, telling them, “What you do matters. Who you are matters. I see you. And our worlds have intersected. And I’m thankful.”
I love the word “encourage.” It literally means “to fill with courage.” We have the great privilege and opportunity to speak into the potential of the people around us. Being specific in our gratitude is encouraging. It empowers others to be brave in their services to us, to own their worth, and to live it out often. Encouraging others with our gratitude demonstrates that we see value in their work, and potential worth growing into. Gratitude says, “Who you are and what you do matters.”
By stepping into another person’s world to breathe courage and gratitude into their souls, they are in turn more likely to see the good in someone else and pay it forward to the people helping them. The war on ingratitude, destructive criticism, and cynical hearts is waged by the outward expression of appreciation.
Words of life have the power to change the landscape of the world we live in every. Single. Day.
Today you have the opportunity to speak into the lives of people all around you. So tell your barista thank you for making your peppermint mocha. Tell your waiter that he’s really good at what he does. Tell the customer service representative on the phone to take their time, and thank you for working so hard to resolve the issue. (Side note: I’ve also found that I receive higher quality service when I speak words like this to the person on the phone. I know phone trees are frustrating, but the people on the other end of that line need to know they matter. Breathe courage and gratitude into their ears, and watch how quickly they will try to help you resolve the issue).
The world has far too many of us quickly uttering words that break down, words that demean, slander, degrade, and worse. But dear friends, we can choose a different path. We can choose a path that leads to a brighter day for yourself and everyone around you. Speak gratitude. Speak courage. And change your world.