The Olympian problem with thank you

Records were broken, moments were shared, and the world tasted some normality again after Covid. The Rio Olympics were the distraction we all needed.

There was a word that kept coming up, though. A harmless word. A common word. A word that brings people together. Only, this time it didn’t. Behind this word was a lifetime of pain waiting to be released. The word was thank you. Was it wrong? I’ll let you decide.

The impressionable mind of a child

We need to start at the beginning. School. This is where the story of thank you begins for most people. Think back to your own time at school. Unfortunately, this is where most of us are told we can’t do something. For many, it regrettably came from the mouth of a teacher.

It might be telling you that you’re hopeless at maths. Maybe a glance at your drawing followed by a comment to “stick to your day job.” Maybe it’s an observation never to pursue music. Whatever it might be, the fallout is nuclear. That one comment is not like any other. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you doesn’t apply here. When a child receives an insult early in their learning, this goes on to shape their foundation. The words are internalized. They believe them because they have no objective standard to judge them by. When someone tells you and me that we’re useless, we have the mental capacity to dismiss it. Young children don’t. 

The second hit depends on who the words come from. When the insult comes from another classmate, the damage isn’t a fallout. We’re able to view their words objectively. Our peers are no more an expert than we are. What gives venom to insults is when they come from the mouth of authority. We are taught to respect and listen to authority, which is generally good. The problem comes when people end up in authority who shouldn’t be there. When an adult tells a child they have no talent, the child believes it. It’s the authority behind the words that give them power.  

Failure and success

It’s this one-two knockout that keeps kids down. Despite this, we hear countless success stories from athletes who were told they were failures as kids. 

Here’s the thing about success, you can’t get there without someone telling you otherwise. Overcoming the opinions of others is just as much a part of success as excelling on the sporting field. Nearly every athlete has a story of someone making them feel small. Being called a failure is not unique. It makes me wonder if it is a part of success. A test of our determination in the face of obstacles. 

Success is hard. It’s not only about doing well but failing well. You will never succeed if you can’t get back up after a failure. That last sentence isn’t inspirational anymore. Overcoming failure has become a check box that needs to be ticked if you hope to find success. 

Never waste a thank you

The journey to success has many passengers. Yes, the people who put you down will be there for the ride. It’s these same people who get all the attention. When we travel on the subway or bus, our attention is always drawn to the rowdy. Take a moment to think about how many pleasant passengers you remember or even notice.

All of these pleasant passengers on our journey, the ones we rarely remember, are the people who stood by us. Our friends, family, community and even the kind words of a stranger. 

Instead, we find ourselves lost in the insults. It’s the insults that we think about. When we sarcastically thank those who hurt us, we only twist the knife they stabbed us with.

If we want the knife out, all we have to do is say thank you. Not sarcastically to the person who stabbed us, but genuinely to those who helped us take it out.

For every mock thank you, a real one is wasted. There are countless people to who we owe sincere thanks for their role in our success. Instead of remembering the bad, we have the opportunity to appreciate the good. And at the end of the day, that’s all there is to happiness. It’s the wisdom to pay attention to the right things.

When you have an urge to get even, remember…

The best revenge is not to be like that.

Marcus Aurelius
Published in Premium Stories, Uncategorized
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