When I was a child, every Christmas my parents would pack us into the car to visit my grandmother. On the way to her home, my father would say to us, “I need you kids to listen to me for a few minutes.” Once Marty and I stopped singing and Mike stopped punching Len in the arm, he would deliver his annual directive to us.
“Whatever gift Grandma gives you, just say thank you,” he would remind us. “Don’t say she gave you the same thing last year, don’t say you hate that colour, don’t say you like your sister’s gift better. Just say thank you.”
We children, being the clever (or smart-mouthed, depending on your perspective) little individuals we were, would challenge him, “What if she gives us the same thing we got at home this morning?”
“Just say thank you,” my father would reply.
“What if she gives us stinky soap?”
“Just say thank you,” he would say again. And the game would go on until we were all laughing about the possible horrors we might receive. Through it all, without a hint of frustration or exasperation, my father would deliver in his calm, consistent tone, “Just say thank you.”
As I continued to grow and my questions became more significant, his message remained the same, but took on a deeper meaning. He taught me that if someone pays me a compliment I don’t deserve, if someone offers me advice that I don’t want, or if someone offers an apology to mend a relationship, the best and most effective response is to just say thank you.