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Friday, June 4, 2010


Cultural differences between oriental and occidental societies are well known and expressing gratitude through explicit thanking is one such area of difference.

European and North American societies exhibit an all pervasive tendency to thank family, friends and strangers for the most trivial of the matters which grates Indians — or at least me — in two ways. One, it reduces act of thanking to mere perfunctory ritual rather than heartfelt recognition of gratitude received because it becomes difficult to recognize true thanking to courtesy thanking. Two, it embarrasses me to receive profuse thanking for task which I don’t consider worthy of gushing praise bestowed on me. One English colleague at my firm, for instance, once asked me for “a very very big favour” by asking me to explain her how many thousands were in a lakh. I am often at loss to even respond to such overwhelmed dose of expressed thanking.

Asian societies, on the contrary, are more cautious in thanking and when done, it is almost always to strangers. In fact, a good yardstick to measure how close one is in personal circle of thank-er is to notice for what and how often one is thanked. A close friend or family member never expects to be thanked and some even take offence at thanking. Even strangers are thanked for things more substantial than mere getting out of the way on footpath. This, naturally, comes out to West as rude and ungrateful behaviour.

Those of us educated and exposed to Western culture are pushing thanking in Indian social interaction to same extent. While thanking someone for efforts he put into helping you is desirable social mannerism, anything done in excess loses its meaning as happens on the other side of the Earth. What we need is moderate amount of thanking and thanking from heart for things for which thank-er is really thankful about. What we need is thank-o-meter™!

Thank-o-meter is each individual’s personal cumulative counter of thanks he received and thanks he gave throughout his life. Because thanking someone will decrement thank-o-meter reading, one would do so only when meant genuinely and when other’s effort are substantial enough and worthy of a thank. This will obviously increase value of thank to receiver as well. Because one will be able to thank only when he has positive balance of thanks, he will have to earn thanks through efforts before he can spend them.

Implementation of this scheme can only be undertaken by God for He only has such scalability and omniscience required for this project. Implementation details such as initial stock of thanks can be worked out. What may happen is that some miser may stop handing out thanks or some other start hoarding them. Thanking in return of cash gift would be equivalent to selling thank-o-meter readings. Humankind may end up deciding price of a efforts in units of thanks which will be function of demand (low during natural disaster) and supply (high during charity event) and may work much like today’s forex market (and can possibly be traded).