The tyranny of thanks

February 25, 2011

Saying thanks is a deeply ambivalent task. Fay Weldon recognised as much when she noted: ‘My children are ungrateful: they don’t care. That is my great reward. They are free.’

Over at the School of Life, Mark Vernon is musing on the tyranny of thanks.  He rightly points out that saying thank you can be infantalising (remember all those admonishments in childhood to ‘say thank you’) not to mention a defense against something darker.  While Fay Weldon has a point – there is a particular tyranny attached to gratitude, there is also something about a resounding silence after an act of kindness has been imparted.  What does the silence signify? That we are ambivalent? That we are ungrateful? That we are hostile? That there are things that simply cannot be said in polite company? And as for saying thanks – can’t this be a potential defense against all of the things that silence seems to mask? So saying thank you and not saying thank you can contain complex messages of gratitude and hostility depending on the circumstances and the relationship.

Perhaps next time we are tempted to say or accept a thank you (or its opposite) we will pause for thought as to what it is we really mean.

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