Table Scraps – “you’re welcome”

IMG_0507I am looking at words or phrases that we often glibly use in conversation.  For my second table scrap I chose the words, “You’re welcome.”  The Thanksgiving holiday is almost upon us and I am certain I will hear these words used as food is being passed around the table.

”You’re welcome” is probably one of the least thought about expressions in my vocabulary. Not that many years ago it was a universal and automatic response to the words, “thank you.” I  was taught when someone thanked you, you acknowledged their gratitude.  Today we try to be more creative with our reply, check out these more modern expressions suggested by “you got it,” “don’t mention it,” “my pleasure” or “it was nothing.”

What are we really saying when we blurt out, “you’re welcome?” Consider the last time you helped someone out of a difficult or stressful situation that perhaps you yourself were involved in. When you said, “you’re welcome,” did you really mean it? Which choice below best describes how you felt?

Choice A:  I didn’t mean it but I felt like I had to say something to the jerk! Now I can get on with my life.

Choice B:  I was okay saying it, but you better believe that person is going to owe me a favor. I will remind them the next time I need something.

Choice C:  I did actually mean it. It felt good to do something nice for someone and then being able to walk away.

Choice D:  I really meant it. I thought about how grateful I was the last time someone did something to help me out. I also told them if they ever needed my help again to let me know.

Choice A:  I can actually say there are days when I would have picked this one.  Like the time I couldn’t get any price concessions from the satellite TV salesperson after tense phone negotiations. There was also the time a person pulled their car out in front of mine and proceeded to give me a “thank you wave.” All I was thinking about doing was roaring up close to their bumper to “express my appreciation.” I think we can agree there is no value in spending any more time on this choice.

Choice B:  Believe it or not there is a lot of support for this choice out there. I found an article by Adam Grant on the Huffington Post website titled, “Why You Shouldn’t Say, ‘You’re Welcome.’” In the article the author grapples with how to remain polite when someone thanks him. Apparently he is uncomfortable saying the words, “you’re welcome” out loud. He is, however, in favor of making sure the person he helped out knows how much they burdened him. From the article it appears he is searching for the best way to extract a favor from someone he just helped out. Grant cites the book, Influence, by Robert Cialdini, in which Cialdini declares, saying “you’re welcome” equates to a “missed opportunity.” You, being the beneficiary of the words, “thank you,” are in a position of power. Cialdini suggests using the opportunity to trade favors and make the person feel obligated to pay the favor back. Grant, uncomfortable with such a direct approach, settles on a “pay it forward” type response suggested by Adam Rifkins.  He says “I helped you, I know you’d do the same for someone else.” Rifkins then later calls in the favor, not for himself, but directs the favor at someone else. Is that supposed to make me feel good somehow?

Choice C:  I would say this is a situational approach to saying “you’re welcome,” and a space I feel very comfortable operating in. I like doing something nice for others once in a while with no strings attached because it makes me feel good about myself. Saying, “you’re welcome,” then, signifies a clean break from the situation and makes it possible to dodge any further responsibility. I can’t think of anything negative to say about this approach other than I might miss an opportunity to help the person further or at a deeper level.

Choice D:  This is more of a relational approach. I don’t know about you but this choice IMG_0110 makes me squirm a little. I am uncomfortable putting myself on the hook for future favors if I don’t really know the person. In a relationship situation, meeting the immediate need is a no-brainer. But relationships don’t stop there.  Choice “D” asks, is there a greater need that can be met beyond the obvious?  Consider the conversation between Jesus and the Samarian woman. She is concerned about her daily practice of having to draw water from a well.  Jesus is concerned about her greater need, her spiritual well being.

“Sir” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where will you get this living water?”…Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks from this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” John 4:11-15

The next time you say, ”You’re welcome” remember yours can be a message of hope. Your words can also convey love, hospitality, comfort or ease someone’s burden.   It is a moment when grace and humility can shine.

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