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a plaque on the wall

a plaque on the wall

Written by  rabbi michael schiffman

art-plaqueIn our society, we have institutionalized the practice of gratitude. People say "thank you" without thinking, and without any genuine sense of thanks.  It's become a meaningless courtesy, like "Goodbye," which originally meant "God Be with Ye."

We've done the same thing with gratuities.  Tips used to mean "To Insure Promptness" but now they are expected at restaurants, and for a cab driver, and sometimes are automatically added to the bill, whether we like it or not.

In religious circles, people are more than willing to praise God, and bless his Name, but we are pretty bad at showing gratitude toward one another.  It reminds me of a line in the movie, "Raisin in the Sun."  Sidney Poitier played a not-so-religious Baptist who helps a group of German nuns living the the desert to build their chapel.  He brings building materials and spends his time and energy helping them.  In the end, they give thanks to God.  Poitier complains to the head nun and said it's great that you thank God, but how about thanking me?  I did all the work!   The nun replied, "No, we thank God; you couldn't help yourself."

Perhaps we think that the people who extend their efforts and money and time just can't help themselves too.  The reality is, everyone likes and needs the encouragement of being told their work and efforts are appreciated.  I belong to several organizations for which I do work without pay, just because I want to serve.  That's fine because I like to be useful and make a contribution.  Not one of them however, does anything to show appreciation.  In the more than 30 years I have been involved with these groups, it would have been nice to get some kind of plaque or expression of gratitude for all the work I did.  I don't need a plaque, I don't do this stuff for plaques, but it would have been a nice token of appreciation, for them to say, thanks, we value all you did.

My father was an active member of the Knights of Pythias lodge for many years.  He always volunteered, spent time on his day off getting things ready for lodge meetings, and faithfully did what they needed to have done.  One thing they did right, was thanking people.  If you volunteered and did work, you got a plaque.  My father didn't need plaques either, but he had a wall full of them.  They were tangible tokens of appreciation for work he didn't have to do that helped build up the organization.  To this day, he still has a dozen of them on his walls.  I don't need plaques either, but when I get one, I would put it on the wall, if nothing else, as a sign that someone at some time, appreciated something I did.

When we show appreciation in the presence of our community and colleagues, its a good feeling.  It makes you feel like the sacrifices you made were worth it.  Most of us live sacrificial lives, and its not because of a plaque.  It still makes you feel good to get the recognition a plaque symbolizes.  I know many people who have served faithfully over the years and they never got any recognition.  They didn't do it for that, and when they were done, they got a moment of applause to show appreciation, but they left burned out.  They often never serve again, and they feel unappreciated for their efforts.  As humans, we have on some level, a need to be appreciated.  Gratitude, even on a token level, goes a long way toward making someone feel that what they did was worthwhile.  It makes you feel good you did it.

I've worked in Eastern Europe for almost two decades.  They are not big on plaques, but I always knew they appreciated what I did.  Their kindness and generosity in the midst of their poverty meant a lot to me.  This past summer, a group of Jewish combatants and survivors of the war in Poland gave me an award for my humanitarian work with Holocaust survivors.  I never did it for the plaque, but it sure felt good to get it.  Tears came to my eyes; not because it was a plaque, but the expression of thanks meant so much.   We need to do better expressing thanks to people who sacrifice their time and efforts and energies in our work.  Its a little thing that can mean a lot.

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