How many times have you told someone, especially Mate, It is the thought that counts.? I have a challenge for you. I say, The thought does not count. You up for a debate?
Why do you say it? What triggers this adage? How about a top three?
- Your (birthday, anniversary, special occasion) was forgotten.
- The job done for you rates a three on the ten-point scale.
- The adage Close, but no cigar could be interchanged.
When you say it, are you…
What are you leaving unsaid when you say it?
- because you do not know what is appropriate.
- because you did not find out what I wanted/needed.
- because I do not want to hurt your feelings as much as you have hurt mine.
We are very forgiving of our children when they bring us the treasures they make from our prize flowers, ingredients from projects we have yet to begin and wildlife (either live or parts). For them, they were expressing their thoughts by associating the gift with the warm feeling of giving.
When we say It’s the thought that counts to them, we are appreciating their naïveté at choosing the appropriate gift. They do not have enough experience to understand gift-giving is an exercise in delighting the receiver rather than satisfying the magnanimity of the giver. After praising their effort, we must explain to them better solutions and how to arrive at them.
The well-packaged gift from an adult which in no way fits with our interests, lifestyle or desires does not meet with such forgiveness. The old adage often masks rancor. So, why is the blood boiling?
The adage is a classic example of irony. Irony is a word we toss around which, in this instance, Merriam Webster says means:
incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result”
Gifts and kindnesses are not actions which happen in a vacuum. By their very nature, they must be tailored to the recipient. For instance, how many adults would be forgiven for the following gifts?
- The drill press the giver needs to complete a power tool collection
- The extra large box of Godiva to a starving person
- A 3x T-shirt from a favorite band to a person who has just lost 100 pounds
The gifts were not chintzy in the way we scoff at things we merely do not like as a matter of taste. Instead, they show a deep misunderstanding of the part of the giver. Before committing resources to a gift, the giver failed to consider if the gift would be either beneficial or satisfy a need which overshadows it. Can you think of more personal examples?
What of the aunt’s gift in A Christmas Story? Or Winchester’s family tradition of chocolates in M*A*S*H? Have you ever been guilty of giving something because it would be what you wanted to receive but completely incongruous to the needs of your recipient?
Let’s step away from gift-giving for a moment. We have all been acquainted with the adage Actions speak louder than words. Many of us are intimately acquainted with it. When someone we love, who professes reciprocity, does something which hurts our feelings we will often tell them It is the thought that counts in order to spare them the guilt which is missing in their pride over their actions.
For instance, Mate comes home beaming with the story of dropping off money for the starving pygmies. In your head you are doing all the calculations to determine your child will not have his soccer fees tomorrow, the gas bill will be late and stretching the last chicken in the freezer into three days worth of meals will tax your imagination to its breaking point.
The thought does not count. Let’s call the spade a spade. If for one moment the thinker had been thinking, none of these situations would have arisen. Hence, the adage is deeply ironic. From the top, if you care about a person, …
2. …you put as much effort into what you do for them as you would for yourself.
3. …you know the difference between what you like and what they like.
4. …you find out what is appropriate given the circumstances.
5. …you satisfy a desire or a need, rather than being concerned over the gratitude.
6. …you do not make the person you love suffer consequences for your perceived good deeds.
When in a relationship, be it friendship or a marital relationship, each person has the responsibility to consider the feelings of the other when deciding to do anything which will have consequences. Everything has consequences.
If the only consequence which interests you is the ego-stroking gratitude you expect for your gift or action, you are not responsible enough to give the gift or complete the action. The only thought you have put into the matter is what you will get out of it.
When placed into a position where you would normally spout It is the thought that counts, stop lying to the listener. Tell the truth.
- This is inappropriate because…
- I love this idea, however, it is (eight sizes too big/small, above my capabilities, useless in my situation).
- This is what you wanted.
The bigger part of the challenge? Never put someone in the position to tell you It’s the thought that counts.
Is there ever a time when the thought really does count? How do you avoid being told or telling someone else It’s the thought that counts? What does the adage mean if you were to put it into your own words? Is it different as a receiver or as a speaker?
(c) Red Dwyer 2012
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