What is the True Meaning of Appreciation?

by Diane Berenbaum

Thanksgiving is over, but the aura still lingers. When I first took over the tradition of hosting this event, I dreaded the time and work required to ensure success. The set up, cooking and clean up were overwhelming. All I cared about was making it “perfect” so that I could win everyone's admiration and praise. During a quiet moment a few years ago, I stopped to reflect on the meaning of the holiday. It is inherently clear—Thanksgiving is a time to “give thanks." So why was I more focused on what people thought of my casserole and table decorations?

How often do we make this same mistake in life? We are more concerned about “looking good” than about appreciating others around us. We get upset when we don't get recognized in the workplace, frustrated when our children don't meet our expectations or desires, and disappointed when our spouses or family members do something that embarrasses us. There are so many people in each of our lives, yet isn't it all about me?

Perceived Value is Often Based on Perceived Need

A recent conversation with a friend from college brought back memories of our freshman economics class. We learned that any item—even a slice of pumpkin pie—has a certain marginal utility to it. This utility translates into value, which in this case translates to money. You pay a certain price for that first slice of pie, which you really want at that moment in time. When you get fuller, you are not willing to pay as much for each slice of pie, since your want is not as strong. And, at a certain point, you get so full that you don't want any more pie and are not willing to pay any price. The lesson is that the value of any object is relative to the perceived need for that object.

Sadly, we often apply this concept to human beings. Notice how nice we become when we need something from someone else. If we need directions we will say, “Excuse me,” smile, and speak politely. We'll even wave and say “Thank you” as we drive off. If we need help with a project or a challenging customer, we might be extra sweet or even obsequious to a co-worker who can remedy the situation. We really need them at that moment and express their value to us by treating them nicely.

There are repercussions if we act only from this perspective—as soon as we do not perceive to need someone anymore, we do not value them and may not treat them as well. We may not even notice them. Or, if we do notice them, we consider them to be an object that has no use to us. 

Appreciating Uniqueness Not Utility

Martin Buber (1878-1965) spoke of two relationships: The I-It and the I-Thou relationship. In an I-Thou relationship, we accept each person as a full human being. When we are totally present to others, and accept them without judgment on how useful they are to us, they are no longer an “it."

These I-Thou encounters are few and far between—and often forgotten—as we tend to flip into our judging selves and only remember the interaction in regards to its outcome.

Human beings are amazing because of their uniqueness, not their utility. Imagine if we lived our lives with this as our core philosophy—think of the difference it would make if we were more aware and appreciative of others in our lives.

This paradigm speaks to the heart of what MAGIC is all about:

  • Value the MAGIC in ourselves and others
  • Appreciate differences
  • Listen at a deeper level
  • Treat others with care and respect

A New Tradition with Lasting Impact

Consider a new tradition for your next Thanksgiving or family gathering. Buy a white tablecloth and ask each person to write something they appreciate about the family on that cloth. Everyone can use a different colored permanent marker to make his/her unique contribution stand out. Gather around to read the comments and honor the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Bring out the tablecloth every year and encourage family members to add new acknowledgements as they enjoy reading and reflecting on the notes from past years. In just a short time, you will have a work of art and words of appreciation that can never be washed away.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
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