A recent study observed groups of people in public settings. They recorded that every ninety seconds someone does something for someone else. Hold a door. Pass the salt. Fulfill a random request.
Interestingly, only one in every six instances included someone saying thank you.
Some would say this is a classic example of some people who are selfish or ungrateful. While others are by nature are more selfless and altruistic.
Or to put it another way, there are those who give and those who take.
But before passing judgment consider this nugget. The roles being played were fluid. People would both give and take. The same people who performed a nice gesture also didn’t say thank you.
Rather than being proof of bad manners it was actually evidence of strong social connections. People gave because they know eventually they would take. Others took knowing they would later give.
It was the fluidity that we see in our closest relationships. We sometimes say thank you, especially with larger gestures, or in situations where we want to model good behavior. But other times, we would just accept the kind gesture without acknowledgment and the giver would be cool with it. Why? With the ins and outs of everyday life there are unwritten rules and expectations about reciprocity.
But with low levels of trust or weakened social bonds, the strands of reciprocity can splinter. We see people who maybe take more than they give or visa versa. The takers are saying, “I don’t trust you to give back.” The givers are thinking “if I give more maybe they will too”, and when they don’t they grow more resentful.
This can lead to a slippery slope where relationships between partners, within families, communities, companies and entire societies disintegrate. Leading to seemingly intractable issues around inequality and fairness.
On this Memorial Day, we have to look no further than to our soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives. They did so knowing that the person next to them was willing to do the same.
In all of our relationships, it is healthy to examine how each of us gives and takes. Is there balance or are the scales beginning to tip too far one way or the other?
These are important conversations that can be a starting point to a healthier balance. Perhaps you’ll realize that if someone isn’t saying thank you, it’s not because they aren’t grateful but because they feel so close to you that the appreciation goes without saying.