Too entitled to offer up a thank you?

Published 1:08 pm Monday, May 2, 2011

During the past few years I have received, enjoyably, a large number of requests or inquires from students, the manner of which create serious concern. It is not that the present generation doesn’t know how to say thank-you (because any way will work), but that its members don’t recognize they should or understand why they must.

These students have been primarily undergraduate college students, but some are in high school or graduate students or recent graduates. Their understandings and attitudes reflect the same cultural perspectives.

A couple have asked for copies of my doctoral dissertation, and I referred them to where these can be purchased. Some have asked for reprints of magazine or journal articles I have written, rather than going to the usual sources for such. (It’s easier just to go to the writer.) Some ask for my opinion on a matter. As readers of these columns should recognize, I seldom hesitate to give my opinion, but I worry about what they plan to do with it. Some want me to dig out data because I know better than they were to find and retrieve them. Some even expect me to do original research so they can just put it into a term paper and get a good grade for work I did.

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There’s another factor common among these requests, i.e., they give me a deadline. I fear typical of students (of all generations, including my own), they think nothing and do nothing about an assignment until it’s almost due. Then they write to me with their deadline and make it mine. Not “if this is convenient” or “as you are able”—but “a week from tomorrow.”

Some of the material they request is of the sort for which publishers pay me good money or I have been commissioned to research. Some is readily available in libraries or on the internet.

I ask them if they would be good enough to send a copy of their final product. If they do, I thank them. In addition to trying to monitor what is done with my material, I sincerely respect what they might produce. I could learn from it, and I would thank them when I do.

Because I often reply by e-mail, even with attachments I have digitalized, I asked them to acknowledge receipt. This allows me to ensure they have received what I sent against the vagaries of electronic space.

I never ask them to thank me, because any compliance isn’t an actual thank-you. But if I were to do so, the attitudes I recognize suggest I would receive few.

After I publish this as a regular column for general readers, I might keep it as “digital stationery” and send it to such students after reasonable time has elapsed with no reply or response.

So far as my immediate readers are concerned, I appeal to talk with students whom you can influence to teach the importance of thank-yous. I put it teach, because I have every reason to believe informing is inadequate. They need not only to be convinced of the value but persuaded to act. I mean principally parents, because parents are principally responsible for their children. Only secondly do I mean teachers. But I do mean teachers. Every time you make an assignment to resource an authority, please emphasize the importance of thank-you.

Not the most important reason, but fully valid, is the practical fact it can open the way for a second request.

Another reason, much harder to comprehend, is that this is ethically owed to the source. I have a right to be thanked. More important both to me and the student is that I want to think well of the student. I may not need a thank-you, but I certainly appreciate it.

I submit the most important reason for a student to say thank-you has very much to do with his or her own character. A thank-you at once expresses personal character and builds it.

We have worked so hard to make provisions for the student generations, I fear they have developed a sense of entitlement. You don’t thank anyone for something to which you are entitled, do you? Well, as a matter of fact, you do. Even if you were entitled. But to lay a demanding request on someone who has no obligation to respond, certainly does deserve and, indeed, demands a thank-you.

Thank you for reading this and thank you for thinking about it. Thank you, mostly, for doing it.