Welcome to one of the best weekends of the year, my friends. I 100 percent LOVE Easter. To me, it's one of the two best holidays, and another fine example of one we should celebrate all year long. In fact, I'm lobbying to combine it with my other favorite-- Thanksgiving-- and to celebrate it weekly or better.
And no, it has nothing to do with the food. Candy is overrated (except for maybe Peanut Butter Eggs, but they are the devil so I stay away from them as much as possible). I just love holidays with a main focus of gratitude and doing good to and for your fellowmen, as opposed to the manic, often less-than-sincere gift giving and the selfishness that tends to creep in (Poor Christmas, I love you too, but receiving gifts often stresses me out).
It's amazing how gratitude changes your life for the better, and how it lifts one's associates. And I think it means more when it's unexpected.
Here's a story from the trenches:
When I was a PR professional a few years ago, I had a terrible run-in with the owner of a magazine. Granted, my so-called supervisor was a demon and had behaved worse the most horrid, entitled teenager you could find on reality television. She got canned not long after that (thank the merciful heavens!), but the damage was done. While she'd not managed to ruin EVERY relationship with various media outlets, she'd certainly left me with a mess to clean up.
Six months after she left, our little film company had been acquired by a large publisher, and they'd also bought out this little magazine. The former owner and president decided that he wanted to give the current PR people their comeuppance, and scheduled a meeting to blast us and lecture us on our "incompetence."
The meeting was ugly. On the one hand, I understood him looking out for his offended reporter of yore, but at the same time I learned he was a grown-up version of my former evil supervisor. His main message was that we as PR people needed to kiss a lot more bum to get what we wanted. He thought we should send gifts to our media contacts. While we listened to his bigoted opinions about some of our music artists, he lumbered around a conference room telling us that we came off as unprofessional ingrates. This was a man who liked to hear himself talk, and while most of what he said was unfounded, insensitive, and outrageous, my own boss felt we needed to placate this newest vice president of the head organization-- keep our heads down and do what he said.
Privately, I remember explaining to my boss how unprofessional we'd look in the long run, like we were trying to buy people off with gifts so they'd give us some media spots or column inches. I told him that professional societies and media outlets alike (at least, the reputable ones), had policies in place where they couldn't accept gifts. Just like my former supervisor had been dead wrong to treat that magazine reporter like we were doing her a favor and she "owed" us a story, it would be just as wrong to start gifting the others. It wouldn't work, and it would only make us look smarmy. Still, the boss had my PR partner and I deliver pies at Thanksgiving and baskets at Christmas. It was embarrassing, and the truth is, I think we lost a lot of our contacts' respect.
Why didn't it work? Well, aside from the obvious and previously-mentioned reasons, I'm sure it came off as insincere. It's one thing to pop an email over to a reporter, thanking them for their time and coverage when they've run something for you, or even when they've committed to do so (which is a gracious and legitimate practice, I'd say). It's quite another to show up with baked-goods or boxes of candy with all the other crap that gets passed around during the holidays, especially when outlets refuse to work with you. The journalist in me bristled at the thought (people who used to bribe me or pester me too much as an editor ultimately didn't get ANY coverage), and the human in me hated the masquerade of it all. What a sham, and what a shame.
Compare that to some of my recent work experience. I may no longer work in media relations, but as an office manager and salesperson, I've seen just how far sincere gratitude will take you. This morning as I answered the phone (we're actually off today, but I'm here to cover for anyone who needs their insulation questions answered), I spoke to one of our long-time customers. I've never met this man in person. We don't have cozy lunches to shoot the breeze. I give him decent, competitive prices so we can all do our jobs right and at the end of the day, everyone can make a little money. One of his office staff members had also called yesterday, and was completely professional and pleasant. I remarked to the president of this company how much we appreciated their business, particularly in this difficult time in the industry. I mentioned how much my brother (who manages the crews and does quite a bit of sales himself) had to say about the kindness and organization of his employees. I told him how I appreciated the very prompt way in which they pay all their bills. I wasn't sucking up. He's just an outstanding customer, even though not one of our bigger accounts. When you've got angry superintendents who wanted work done three days before they bothered to schedule you, it's a breath of fresh air to speak to someone who treats clients, customers, and subs with a great deal of respect. Anyway, I could just tell by the change in his voice that he was smiling. He could tell I wasn't just feeding him a line, because I was able to give specific examples of what we appreciate. It wasn't B.S. It was just a simple thank you. And I expect him to keep using us exclusively for insulation. It doesn't have anything to do with me, but it made me feel great knowing he understood our gratitude.
In the business world in particular, sincerity and gratitude are so powerful. An accountant I work with seemed exasperated one day, and I asked him what was bothering him. He mentioned that another one of his clients had sent him the rudest communication, masked as a thank-you note. She checked off a list a mile-long of demands and instructions, insulted his intelligence and ability to do the job, and then closed with something along the lines of "I'm so grateful for all you do." That closing line, he said, was like a slap in the face. He didn't buy it for a minute. Because at the end of the day, people aren't stupid when it comes to the way you treat them.
And I get it, it's hard sometimes to seem grateful. We've all got lots on our minds, but can't this holiday weekend be a time to renew that commitment to graciousness? Considering all that we've been given, we ought to look people in the eye and say thank you. We don't just thank for gifts or physical things. Thank someone when they give you a compliment instead of turning away and making excuses about why they're wrong. Thank the person who bags your groceries. Thank your mail carrier. Smile widely at the stranger in line with you at the bank, and even the infuriating people at the bank for splitting your deposit-- the key is to mean it.
I have a couple of friends who are particularly good at this-- J & B, my little pals in a band. Why do I keep going back to their shows? Well, beside the good music and jumping out of my comfort zone, I think it's pretty sweet the way I always get a text from J and a Facebook post from B, thanking me for coming to their show. And they thank everyone-- not just their gorgeous groupie, Rachel Sego. ;) They understand their adoring fans might also adore a movie or an evening of mini-golf, but appreciate people supporting them. And who doesn't want a thank-you from even a local a rock star? I swoon! Gratitude is sexy.
Compare my friends' good manners to some other people I interact with. Even though service shouldn't be about the thanks you get, I'll admit it's frustrating when you feel like you're nothing but a chauffeur, or a cook, or a maid, or an advice-giver, or a listener, or the provider, or the one staying till the bitter end to make sure everyone is taken care of. And I'm no martyr. I sincerely like baking seven-dozen muffins early on a Sunday morning; I'm glad to do it because I love to bake, and I love the people who will consume said muffins. But it feels bad when people swoop in for muffins and don't save you a place at their table. It hurts a person's feeling when one spends great time and money on a gift for a friend who looks at it like, "Why in the world would you give me this?"
Fortunately, most people I know are gracious-- or at the very least, polite. But here's a secret to any gentle reader with a problem expressing thanks: it seems the more you thank, the more likely nice things are to come your way.