I was talking to a friend not too long ago about this year’s recipient of the [Insert Academic Discipline Here] prize established at my late wife’s alma mater in her memory. She asked me if I had received a thank-you letter from him. I told her I had not, and that I have never received one, which prompted her to comment that she felt it was a breach of etiquette. Whether or not students who receive scholarships or prizes should be expected to contact the families responsible for them directly, I think there is a need for people to better understand how to courteously treat each other.
A long time ago, Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother attended a church meeting that included the awarding of the church’s annual scholarship. A motion had been made to award it to the previous year’s recipient, and the preacher replied “No! [Insert Name of Recipient Here] never sent a thank-you note.” And that was that; another nominee received the scholarship.
With a great deal of hand-wringing, the Absence of Handwritten Thanks has been deplored since before Etiquetteer was born, but it’s definitely getting worse. Recipients of kindness will not care, Etiquetteer fears, until they stop receiving kindnesses. Etiquetteer was saddened to learn a few years ago from a Dear Young Person that handwritten notes “weren’t his style.” That, of course, leaves the impression that Ingratitude is his style. But Etiquetteer still sends gifts . . .
Your query specifically concerns academia, and the problem is as acute there as it is in our social lives. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him write.” Admissions officers and donor relations representatives do everything they can to communicate with donors such as yourself about their scholarship recipients, but even their efforts to force personal engagement from scholars often come to naught. Years ago Etiquetteer attended a scholarship luncheon that one scholar missed because he slept through his alarm. Several donors were nonplussed, and the official running the luncheon was left at a disadvantage.
Advances in communications - first email, now texting - have made people lazy about putting pen to paper. The disastrous trend in 21st-century education to stop teaching cursive writing has compounded this.* Almost as bad, some have come to see handwritten correspondence as “quaint” and can be rather condescending about it. Etiquetteer absolutely disagrees, if for no other reason than the thrill of seeing a handwritten envelope in the mailbox. Writing a Lovely Note of Thanks is always worth the effort.
Etiquetteer would encourage you to reach out to your late wife’s alma mater about this matter and share your disappointment at this Absence of Expressed Personal Gratitude. Etiquetteer hopes some sort of scholar interaction, whether handwritten or in person, transpires.
*Since 2010 this trend has started to reverse in many states, and a good thing, too. But Etiquetteer is surprised to read that this is sometimes more a political than educational crusade.
Would you please suggest ways to maintain contact with friends so they don't feel you are ignoring them.
The flip answer is “Well, stop ignoring them.” But Etiquetteer doesn’t want to be flip. This is important.
You sound as though you might feel a wee bit bruised from one or more friends suggesting that you’ve been distant. If this is so, take heart. No one would have mentioned this if they didn’t value your presence in their lives. On the other hand, ask yourself if you’re simply more comfortable than they are with less frequent contact. Reading your query, Etiquetteer couldn’t help but remember that scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are each asked by their therapists how often they sleep together. One says “Almost never, three times a week.” The other says “Constantly! Three times a week!”
Friendships, all relationships, are maintained with work and dedication. Short of hiring Letitia Baldrige to write Lovely Notes for you with details from your Rich Full Life, you’re going to have to invest time and energy in your friends yourself. You can’t delegate. (Once upon a time, in marriage the husband was allegedly so busy making money outside the home that the wife did all the work on the social side. Those days are gone.) Decide right now that you’re going to make that effort.
People appreciate being remembered, so remembering birthdays goes a long way. Social media goes a long way to help us with this, but perhaps you could look at your friend lists at the beginning of each month and mail a birthday card a few days in advance for each friend that month? Sharing a news story about something you know a friend is interested in is another quick way ping people; “I saw this and it immediately made me think of you.” Respond to texts fairly promptly - but if you don’t have time to devote to a long texting chat (for instance, during the work day), be forthright about it. “At work, will text you back tonight” should do it.
Etiquetteer wishes you success in your quest for balance.