By Mallika Bhatia
The city I stay in is a paradise for public transport. To get from anywhere to everywhere, there is always a train or a tram or a bus available. Naturally, I use it on a regular basis and every time when I get off the bus, I say thank you to the driver.
For driving of the bus may be a part of the job, but it is a job that helps me reach places. It is a process that helps me make memories, trying new restaurants, meeting my friends, visiting sick relatives in hospitals, go shopping or for my fitness class and so much more.
I use the bus to pick up my child from the daycare and every day when I pick up my child, I thank each one of the caretakers I meet. I know they are compensated for taking care of the children but what they do is so much more valuable than their remuneration. They make sure the most precious person in my life remains happy and safe throughout the day. They make sure my child is fed and rested. No amount of thank-you’s that I can say would be enough for the service they provide.
I always express my gratitude to people who hold doors for me or offer to help me down the stairs with the pram when a lift isn’t working. I make it a point to say thank-you to car drivers who break their momentum for me to cross the road and to each person I encounter during the day for every act of kindness they carry out. Yet I have never forced my daughter to say thank-you. I always suggest it, but if she refuses, I don’t push her.
Not because I don’t want her to learn etiquettes but because I want her to feel the gratitude before expressing it. I strongly believe that if we truly ‘feel’ something within then we will do it for life with all our heart. But if we carry out an act just because we are told to, chances are we will quit the practice at the first available opportunity.
The key to gratitude is understanding and feeling, not obligation. I often explain to her how happy the other person would feel if they know that their act and effort is appreciated. I also mention how their single act impacts our lives and beliefs in so many ways. Sometimes she nods as if she understands it all, at other times she doesn’t react. Her not reacting is fine with me since I hope she understands and feels it first. Expression would just be the next and equally important step.
She has asked me on a few occasions “Why I thanked someone?” and I always explain how I think they helped us. I repeatedly add how grateful I feel and that sharing my gratitude with the others helps us all. Nothing more, no suggestions for her personally. Internally I hope that she learns by example.
She is all of three and I am not sure if it is too soon to expect her to show any gratitude. Occasionally, I question myself if not pushing her is the right approach?
She doesn’t say thank you often, rather she says it rarely.
And then one weekend afternoon she wakes up from her nap with a yellow Giraffe soft-toy in her hand, the one that I had bought for myself much before she was born.
She runs into my arms with her eyes partially closed as it is too bright for her tiny eyes.
She says, “Amma, I want to thank you.”
Astonished, touched and confused, I ask, “That’s so sweet, but why do you want to thank me?”
She answers, “Because you bought this giraffe for yourself.”
I am still confused so I ask her to explain further
She says, “Since you got it, we have it at home and since you are sharing it with me, I get to play with it too.”
A tight hug in return was my truest expression of gratitude to her.