What Ever Happened to Gratitude?

That’s the question my wife asked me the other day as she reflected on the semester she’d just completed.  As director of the university opera theatre program, she produces and directs at least one student production every semester, and she has done so for more than twenty years.  What she noted was that even ten years ago, students would offer cards or notes, or even small tokens of gratitude, for the efforts she made in producing and directing these programs – a gratitude, if you will, for the funds she expended that were not reimbursed by the university, the hours and hours of extra time provided in rehearsing and providing additional personal instruction to performers who needed it.

This year, for the first time ever, she received not a single card, even though she is teaching more students than ever before.  Paradoxically, this was also a year in which her student evaluations were among the best ever; so the lack of cards or tokens of appreciation weren’t likely due to student unhappiness.  It’s also not something that happened this year.  Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t unusual for her to receive thank-you notes from students who successfully completed senior recitals, or from those she helped into graduate programs. Over the last few years, those notes have dwindled away to nothing as well, again, even though she is even more successful in getting more and more students to perform at a higher level.  And this is not something limited to my wife, but a change in social climate that her colleagues both in her university and elsewhere have noted.

There’s also an increasing interest in grades and less interest in mastering the techniques of singing and performing. Along with this increased emphasis on grades and “credentials” and the decline in expressed gratitude, or perhaps because of it, she and others have noted a growing attitude among students – and among younger faculty and professionals in the field – that these younger people have “done it all by themselves.”

There’s little or no awareness or recognition that no one “does it by himself or herself.”  Virtually all of us have had mentors, teachers, or benefactors somewhere along the way, who made a difference, whether or not we wish to recognize them or not.  Along with this, I’ve also overheard more and more young professionals ask, when requested to do something professional, “What’s in it for me?”

To me, this growing focus on self, both in academia and in business, is a disturbing trend, and one that is mirrored by the trends in the financial community, where the focus seems to remain on how much compensation individuals can build up, rather than upon what they are accomplishing.  In the political area, the focus is on getting re-elected, no matter what the cost to the community or nation.  And in all areas, there’s less and less gratitude for what we’ve received and more and more complaints about what we haven’t… and yet, at the same time, more and more people are less and less willing to go out of their way for others.

Might it just be… just perhaps… that so much of the polarization in society is fueled by anger that others don’t appreciate what we’ve done, even as we fail to appreciate what others have done?

5 thoughts on “What Ever Happened to Gratitude?”

  1. Grant Edmunds says:

    I offer a challenge to everyone who reads this: Close your laptop, put up your iphone, walk away from your computer, and write a thank you note. As Mr. Modesitt has noted all of us have , or currently do have, mentors that influenced us for good. If there isn’t one in your life right now think back, try and remember that teacher you had, the one you never forgot, then go and write them a thank you. If you can, mail it to them. If that’s impossible, go ahead and write it anyway. I’ll see you all later, I’ve got a thank you to write.

  2. Ted says:

    I wish to express my gratitude to you for all of your excellent work. I’ve read every Recluse book, and all the soprano books (although they were a little less to my taste, but still enjoyable) and will be starting the Imager series as soon as I find time, and purchase them on my Kobo reader (epub format, they’re there, I checked) It is dissapointing to see the decline in thankyou’s to your wife, as it only takes minutes to write up a note, or purchase a card to express thanks for all the work she does. I understand that students are busy, and often have very limited funds, but what’s a buck or two, and 5 minutes of your time to express the difference they’ve made in your life.

    Recently while my family was dealing with a medical emergency, I had the opportunity to give thanks to my old youth and scouting leaders who were there to help out our family in our time of need. People who have made an impact and a difference in your life deserve 5 minutes of your time for gratitude, it’s often what gives them the motivation to continue what they are doing. Like Grant said, take the time, write a note, you’ll be glad you did.

    Thank You Mr. Modesitt for making a difference in my life, I can relate to white/black, order/chaos, and balance in life. Karma exists, and I like to stay on the good side of it.

  3. Frank says:

    I agree with Mr Modesitt.

    The what’s in it for me is a mentality that I’ve seen more and more. Work itself and quality is of no value anymore. A few years ago while working in the private industry this was a concept that was actually part of training and coaching for all employees (obviously sales was a major point but this was a technical department). They even sued the WIIFM acronym as often as they could… Obviously I didn’t care for this and saw quickly things degrade (in quality and socially). Now these adults are teaching these things to others and their kids… All to improve some corporate numbers. Sad… Schools, politics and more groups are taking the corporate approach of increasing “value” while overlooking that its anti-social by itself…

    My thanks to you Mr Modesitt.
    You’ve been the greatest teacher in my life so far, I’ve been reading (and re-reading)your work for over 10 years now. Every story you write as morals and social impacts in my life.

  4. Jason says:

    I think some of it is that our society is turning towards a what’s in it for me attitude and, thus, is less likely to offer thanks to people. But, I believe much of the problem is that many younger people simply don’t know to express their gratitude to others. I think, many, if it were suggested to them to write a note of appreciation would do so happily because they are thankful, but simply never ponder the gesture of doing so. No one ever taught them to do so. I am as guilty as any in that up until now, I have not had my children write thank you cards for birthdays and occassions, but I will now because it is something they need to learn.

    So, thank you Mr. Modesitt, for bringing up this topic!

    P.S. What is your preferred method of your fans addressing you on this forum?

    1. “Mr. Modesitt” is fine; I address others with the same formality until I know them better.

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