Silent gratitude—sounds like an oxymoron to me. I recently was startled to open a fortune cookie and read “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” Without a doubt, it’s the most profound advice I’ve ever found in a fortune cookie. When I Googled the quotation, I learned it is credited to both Gladys Stern and Gertrude Stein, two writers of the early twentieth century. Digging deeper did not return much additional information.
In a sense, silent gratitude is not really gratitude at all. Consider the way you felt the last time you held open a door, paid a compliment, or let someone cut ahead of you in line, only to be met by silence. Human nature is to perceive this silence as indifference—regardless of how the recipient may feel in reality. Is it possible that these people were simply preoccupied, embarrassed, or did not see you ahead of them? Of course it is! But their missed opportunity to say “thank you” is their loss as much as yours.
My husband was recently watching the movie Goodfellas on cable for the 79th time, and I walked in just as Robert De Niro’s character, Jimmy Conway, enters a nightclub where young Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, is working. Conway makes a big show of lavishing $100 tips all over the room, but he tips young Henry “just” $20. All the same, Hill has the presence of mind to say “thank you” loudly enough to be heard by Conway over the din of the club scene.
In the gangster world portrayed in the movies, silent gratitude could get a person whacked. What does it cost us in our practices? Silent gratitude could spell the last time you receive a referral from a contact, catch a break on a deadline extension, get the benefit of the doubt from a difficult judicial assistant, or have a colleague cover your five-minute hearing in the next county.
When I reflect on this notion of silent gratitude, I am struck by how ungrateful I must seem at times to my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors, my employees, and even myself. Mind you, it’s not that I don’t deeply appreciate my relationships with these people—nothing could be farther from the truth—it’s just that, at any given moment, I am juggling three thoughts, and it has been far too easy for “thank you” to get drowned out in a whirlwind of calendar calls, council meetings, soccer tournaments, and school concerts.
With the new year upon us, I can hardly think of a more worthwhile endeavor (from either a personal or professional standpoint) than to resolve to give voice to my gratitude with renewed vigor. I will be keeping a notepad close at hand and making a note each time I’m struck by gratitude, ensuring that I express my gratitude to the proper people, with a goal of thanking at least ten people every day.
For the moment, my gratitude is with Gladys and Gertrude for helping me to realize what a blind spot silent gratitude has been for me. Their pithy quote tucked inside that five-cent cookie has been worth a fortune