COLUMN: Thankless tasks in an age of entitlement

Is a good deed truly its own reward, or would a simple 'thank you' go a long way?

I’d like to think my mother raised me right (and I’m sure she’d like to think so, too).

I use my manners, hold the door open for others, chew with my mouth closed… and so on.

But a recent, brief conversation between a few Vancouver radio personalities got me thinking.

One told her co-hosts about her experience picking up something that a stranger in line in front of her had dropped.

The stranger, she said, simply took the rescued item back and carried on with her business – no nod, no smile and not a word to indicate the effort was even remotely appreciated.

Bothered by the indifference, when the host got to the front of the line she mentioned the incident to the store clerk – who asked if she had done the deed to be thanked.

It’s an interesting question: Do people do good deeds just to be thanked? A better question, I think, is: Why would anyone not say thank you for a good deed done? It’s not a difficult thing to do, and it can just as instantly brighten the giver’s day as much as the deed did the recipient’s.

Or have we simply come to take the goodwill of others for granted?

Perhaps the recipient cited by the DJ was simply having a tough day; at the end of her rope, even. Let’s face it, few, if any, of the people we see every day – be they strangers, acquaintances, colleagues or close friends and family – are sailing through life carefree. Some are carrying seemingly insurmountable burdens, and at this expectation-filled time of year, the weight of those only increases.

Perhaps the response can be traced back to the notion that people learn what they live, and live what they learn.

A child raised in an unchecked atmosphere of entitlement, for example, will most likely grow into an entitled adult; someone who believes they simply deserve things – things I’d like to think the majority of people realize come at a cost, not on a platter.

Oft-quoted statistics also point to a pattern that abusive adults are commonly found to have themselves been abused as children.

Is it reasonable, then, to presume that those who don’t say thank you were never thanked themselves?

I can relate to the DJ’s discomfort with her good deed going unacknowledged, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

I’m not saying I’m a chronic do-gooder – far from it, in fact (sorry, Mom). But I do believe that most people who do good deeds of any nature do so simply because it feels right.

Letting a door close in someone’s face simply does not feel good. And who can simply stand back and watch, or keep walking, as someone nearby scrambles to recover a stack of papers they inadvertently dropped?

For many, it’s just second-nature to lend a hand, not to mention good karma.

No doubt, there will always be people who, for whatever reason, neglect, forget or outright refuse to say thank you.

But I’m hopeful that doesn’t deter those who do the deeds that warrant the appreciation from continuing their good-neighbour behaviour.

Just because a good deed may appear to go unnoticed, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t made someone’s day a little better, whether they realize it right away or somewhere down the road.

And maybe, just maybe, it will change their course the next time an opportunity to help out arises.

Tracy Holmes is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

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