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Work, Life, Lead: Expressing Gratitude in a Social Media World

The title jumped off the page of the newspaper – How Facebook Ruins Friendships, by Elizabeth Bernstein . Read down a bit and you’ll find this lament or is it a “cri de coeur”?Thank You Very Much Envelope

Like many people, I’m experiencing Facebook Fatigue. I’m tired of loved ones—you know who you are—who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts. (“Anyone know a good restaurant in Berlin?”)

One of the big problems is how we converse. Typing still leaves something to be desired as a communication tool; it lacks the nuances that can be expressed by body language and voice inflection. …

But let’s face it, the problem is much greater than which tools we use to communicate. It’s what we are actually saying that’s really mucking up our relationships.

I agree. The social media genie is out of the bottle. If you are unconvinced, then watch this video on the spread of social media outlets like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The question is not whether we should have a Facebook page, but rather, what should be the character of our relationships with one another.

The social media revolution is challenging every social norm that we’ve known since the beginning of time. We are finding that virtual relationships can have a genuine impact upon us. Bernstein and I may not be interested in your toothbrushing escapades, but we are interested in you as a person.

I’ve been pondering this question about the nature of our relationships in a social media world for the better part of a year. I’ve learned that it is not enough for us to have relationships of, respect, trust, honesty,and integrity. Those are important virtues, but they are either conditions or outcomes of our relationships. If I act a certain way, then you’ll know respect. My question has been how are we to act so that our friendships and relationships are healthy and whole.

I have to thank Dan Pink for the answer, or rather the opportunity to discover the answer. About a year ago, Dan conducted a contest to write a seventh lesson to accompany the six that were the career guides in his book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: That Last Career Guide You’ll Need. My answer, Say Thanks Every Day was selected as a finalist. Though I did not win the contest, I learned that this idea had struck a cord with people the world over. Over the past seven months, I’ve thought about what Say Thanks Every Day implies about the way our relationships should be. Here’s a little picture of what I’m seeing.

The expression of thanks is an an expression of gratitude. In order for us to be grateful, we must recognize that other people or places are the source of gifts of strength, resources and support. To see that our lives are filled by the gifts of others, is realize that we do not stand alone in life, but that our lives are the product of generosity and kindness of others.

Consider for a moment what gratitude means in the context of social media. Think about the last hundred Tweets you’ve made on Twitter. Or your Facebook updates, blog posts, or comments. How many of them expressed thanks.

Just so you know, I made a practice for a few months of going through my Twitter followers and blocking all those who simply wanted to sell me something.

Is your social media involvement product driven or relationship driven?  Are you trying to genuinely connect with people, or are you marketing a product?

The practice of gratitude begins with an appreciation of other people and places. This appreciation takes us out of the self-absorption of much contemporary communication. We are no longer the center of our little universe. We are one of the planets circling around the sun of society, however small or large it is.

The gravitational pull which holds us together as social solar system is gratitude and appreciation, most simply and powerfully expressed in acts of thanks.

To Say Thanks Every Day is to recognize the contributions others make, and provide us the motivation to be contributors, not just receivers of others’ goodness.

As I have thought and reflected upon this phenomenon over the past several months, I’ve come to see five ways we can express gratitude. Each of these can be done in the context of our homes with family and friends, and at work, with colleagues and clients. The thin line between work and life is best managed through these five acts of gratitude.

The first action is to Say Thanks. Do this everyday at every opportunity. Do sincerely, creatively, intelligently and continually. To be a person from whom thanks is a common expression opens opportunities for making a difference that do not exist other wise.

The second act is to Give Back. When we recognize the contributions that others have made, our response in gratitude is to return the favor. It is a similar idea captured in the film Pay It Forward. Much of the community service that people do is an expression of giving back to the people and organizations of their community. Communities are built on the service that is gratitude for past contributions.

The third act of gratitude is to Make Welcome. The practice of hospitality or hostmanship. Jan Gunnarsson characterizes it this way.

Imagine a world where people feel welcome and expected. A world where children, friends, strangers, guests, customers and colleagues dare to and want to meet each other for real.

The fourth act of gratitude is to Honor Others. When we appreciate a person or a place, we recognize a larger world of meaning that what is simply my personal preference. To honor people by how we live to say thank you for the influence or impact that you have had. To emulate their lives in how we live is to give thanks for impact that they have had on us.

To dedicate our lives to honor the memory of a family member or friend is to recognize in action their gifts. This is more than saying thanks, but a willingness to transform our lives to be like those who touch us. To live with honor is another way we live to say thanks every day.

The fifth, and last, act of gratitude is to Contribute Goodness. When we do so, we are making a difference in our world. We are not looking for what we can get or take from others. Instead, we are looking to see how we can contribute to making the world a better place, create solutions that elevate people and places, and bring people together where the expression of gratitude is valued.Five Actions Gratitude

Download this simple diagram that I’ve created and begin to try to do one of the five acts every day. See the difference you can make as a result.

Each one of these acts of gratitude can also utilize the technology of social media. The technology is of little worth if we are not people who appreciate others and actively practice acts of gratitude to strengthen families, businesses, schools, communities and the global community.  So, in your relationships, think less about your status updates, and more about how to say thanks to others every day for the gifts and contributions that make our world a place of goodness.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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