Social Contracts and Constructs

A friend of mine from out of town came to spend the night- he had a speaking gig nearby, and so he came to the “Hoffman B & B”- bed and breakfast at our house.  It was super to see him, and I am so glad he stopped by.  He also did something really nice- he brought us a bottle of wine as a thank you.

When I was growing up, this was normal.  If you went to someone’s house, even for dinner, you might bring flowers or a bottle of wine;  if you stayed there, you always brought a small gift of some kind.  It may not have been “necessary”, but it was always appreciated.  Thank you notes were also part of the process, and especially at birthdays and holidays.

These “traditions” seem old fashioned these days.  I remember not loving the process of writing thank yous to all the relatives after the holidays, but my mom insisting on our doing so.  I have not always pushed my kids to write thank yous, but I am changing that this holiday season- and here’s why:

I think we are not as appreciative of the small favors and kindnesses that others do for us as we should be.  The act of bringing a small gift or writing a note is a gift of time, thought and effort.  We don’t see these very often any more.  Those people that do take the time have become remarkable- what was commonplace courtesy is now a rare personal value.

I think the act of writing a note from a kid’s perspective can seem tedious and formulaic.  I remember grumbling and writing “Dear _______, Thank you for the _______.  I will use it when I _________.  Thank you for thinking of me, I hope you have a happy new year.  Love _________”  and looking at it as a silly thing to have to do.  Now, as an adult, in a world that is getting more and more impersonal, i am seeing it differently.

What the thank you note should do is instill a sense of value, and maybe even reciprocal obligation, in them, and make them consider the time and effort someone else took on their behalf.  It’s making an effort to see things from another’s perspective,  and to instill gratitude, even if the gift is only “ok”.  These values are important, especially later on in life.

I don’t know when or why good manners and common courtesy became old fashioned and got dropped out of the vernacular. I do know that having a sense of being thankful for all that we have, and all that we can share with others is a value I want my children to learn from home, so it becomes a part of them when they are adults.

Manners, courtesy, and all those little touches that can make us think Martha Stewart is a perfectionist with too much time on her hands, are the small things that make interactions with others special.  In terms of social contracts, the small touches and efforts make people feel welcome, and it helps bring people together, knowing someone else thought enough to make the extra effort on your behalf.

Seth Godin talks about things being remarkable and this then making them valuable.  It’s true.  I always notice this small touches, like my favorite barrista who can even make a pumpkin in the latte foam, and this keeps me coming back for more.  The small stuff, from mints on the pillow, to homemade anything, is now what I value more than ever before.  I have enough stuff, I don’t have enough value.  The trick is to create value in everything you do, and it may be as easy as being kind, courteous and thoughtful of others.

Rereading this post, it  sounds like I am Emily Post’s secret love child.  Maybe.   But I guess what I am really trying to get at is that in a community, online or off line, the personal effort and special touches go a long way to building your reputation as being remarkable.  I hope I can pass these values on to my kids, as well as help them learn to appreciate a little more in life, rather than take everything from things to people for granted.

Thanks, Howard, for reminding me how important this is.

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