Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Importance of Showing Gratitude

You know what my favorite kind of advocacy action is? It's the Thank You. I'm a mom and through my children, I see firsthand time and time again the power that a show of gratitude has to transform a mood or a relationship. One might think a simple Thank You is the easiest thing there is, but it gets kind of complicated sometimes. I'll get to that, but first let's talk about why Thank You's are good and what form they can take in our advocacy.

What Makes a Thank You So Awesome?
A heartfelt Thank You makes people feel good. It just does. It makes people feel seen and respected. You might have the impression that a U.S. Senator or Representative is seen in the media all the time and has all the respect of the office that they could want, but I don't believe that's true. They are human. They get constant criticism in the public eye. Maybe even more than most of us, they crave respect. When they go out on a limb to do something for the common good and it never gets reported in the media, it can sour them on making that effort. Why bother when no one cares? A genuine Thank You can turn an attitude around for them, just like it can for us. 

It's not only the members who can be profoundly affected by gratitude. Aides tell me that most constituents who meet with them are coming to tell them off for doing things the constituents don't like. I had one staffer get a little teary after I showed her pictures of children in Uganda with brighter futures because of a vote from my Congresswoman. She said, "You know, no one comes in here to thank us like this." I guarantee you she was all ears to hear our next request. Aides are the invisible folks in the background working long hours. We have the power to make them feel appreciated when we take the time to recognize their efforts!

How Can We Thank Members of Congress?
These are all ways I express gratitude to my members of Congress when they take action I asked them to do.

A hand-written note
You can use a piece of lined notebook paper or a pretty card just like you would send to your Grandma! The hand-writing ensures the office knows that you didn't simpycut and paste a message. You really took the time to do it personally! 

A phone call to the members' office
It doesn't take much time to call up and say thanks. If you have 5-10 friends call with you, it can make quite an impression that multiple voters are watching and caring what they do.

A face-to-face thank you to the member or their aide in a sit down meeting
Nothing sets the tone of a meeting more positively than a Thank You. Even if your member hasn't done anything for you yet, you can thank them for their service. Every election, your member of Congress is out in front of your community for judgement. They constantly travel back and forth from home to the capitol. That's a drag. You can also thank them for choosing to be in a position to help millions of people. (With your meeting request, you'll have just the way for them to do that, right?) You can at least thank them for those things. 

A public thank you in a letter to the editor
Even better than a private Thank You is one that a lot of people can see in the local newspaper! When you get a letter to the editor published that tells the folks back home about something great that the member has done, you're doing them a favor and you're showing them that you are a person of influence. You could easily also write about them NOT taking your actions, right? These letters to the editor are handy in those face-to-face meetings I mentioned above. It adds more weight to your verbal words. (For advice on how to get on published see my Advocacy Made Easy: Writing a Letter to the Editor blog)

Why are Thank You's Sometimes Hard?
The hardest time to thank is when the member of Congress is working in opposition to policies or ideals that you hold dear. Unfortunately, this happens quite a lot in our current toxic political atmosphere. Politics are unbelievably messy. I believe this is mostly because people and their endless complexities are messy. Many times, I've been looking at a member of Congress thinking "How could they possibly be doing X which is so horrible when we convinced them to do Y on this other issue which is so great?" It's hard to grasp. Sometimes those hurtful things make me want to give up and disengage, but then who would be there to help them do the things that help people in need?

At the end of outreach training sessions, I often invite participants to take an easy advocacy action like writing a Thank You note. It helps to both solidify a member's position in our favor and it helps the new volunteers learn about something positive the member did. I've had potential volunteers at my training sessions tell me at the end of the workshop, "Look, I admire what you're doing, but I could never thank that person for anything" and walk out. I get it. Our polarized culture hardens us into believing the worst about others and what is possible. Yet because my cause is so important to the people I serve, I write the Thank You's anyway. I think it helps to change my heart, so I can continue the work.

You may not like everything everyone does, but when they do something good, it's really good to acknowledge it. In fact, it's good for both of you.

I'm talking about politics. I'm talking about parenting. I'm talking about friendship. Actually...I think I'm talking about every kind of relationship there is!

Have you had a good experience where a Thank You set the tone or turned a negative situation around? Let me know!