Resistance: Thank people for their work

This week’s resistance is a pretty easy one, I think: Say thank you.

We live in a culture and era where people have pretty strict expectations when it comes to free content and volunteered time — these things are provided for our convenience and enjoyment, presumably, and many people don’t stop to think about the people behind them. Every video you watch, every photograph you see, every audio you listen to, everything you read, was created by a person — with some rare exceptions, but this isn’t about Rights for Robots. (Sorry, all you robots out there.)

Someone put time in on that thing. Someone developed the skills needed to make it happen for you, and likely other people worked on it too, and they collaborated together to make this great and cool thing that maybe you like a lot! Perhaps it’s a resource you use and enjoy, or something that entertains you and makes you smile, or something that just makes you think, and feel good about engaging with the world.

Sometimes we pay for these things — I subscribe to Bitch Magazine, for example, because I like it and enjoy reading it. And that is great and definitely a way of thanking a person or entity for what they are producing. But also, sometimes verbalising thank you is important, and you may be surprised by how few people do it, how usually inboxes and notifications are a steady stream of people complaining, asking for more things, demanding, and otherwise assuming that your time and energies are part of the public commons, not your own.

It’s so startling to see someone just dropping a line to say ‘thank you’ that I suspect I am not the only one who gets kind of confused when it happens. What is happening, I think, as I puzzle over the words. Does this person want something from me? Is this in response to a specific personalised thing I said? Where is this coming from? I feel almost suspicious, because I’m unaccustomed to it — whether in the context of my paid work for other publications or anything else.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but most people likely wouldn’t say they need some sort of continuous flow of positive reinforcement to get by in the world. But I will say that it gets really grinding, disheartening, and demoralising to do work that feels quite literally thankless, and to sink huge amounts of resources into something only to get nothing back. Yes, many of us do these things because we love them and think they’re important, but does that mean they should remain unacknowledged, that this should be a one sided relationship of endless sacrifice and a steady stream of taking, and, often, demanding more?

So pick a person a week and decide to thank them. It doesn’t have to be a person you know. It doesn’t have to be public or performative (in fact, perhaps maybe it shouldn’t be?). Just reach out and let someone know that you appreciate them and their work and you’re glad they’re around doing things. That’s all. You don’t need to go to elaborate lengths, but also, please keep it actually limited to a ‘thank you.’

Not ‘I wanted to thank you for your work but also I was thinking…’ Just ‘thank you.’ You can talk about something they did that was particularly meaningful or helpful for you, or say how long you’ve been following their work. And I would add that this isn’t limited to people who do political work and provide information for people interested in political organising. It could be to someone who does anything for you, whether it’s a coworker who silently helps without being asked, or a partner who puts in a lot of work taking care of the kids, or someone on Twitter who always makes you smile, or anything else. Humans don’t thank each other enough, and it creates feelings of bitterness and resentment and frustration. It makes people feel like they aren’t respected or wanted, and like their lives are meaningless.

Depending on the situation, if you have the financial ability to do so, sure, say thanks with cash in addition to words. Many people maintain crowdfunding accounts or wishlists or whatnot, asking for support to help them do this thing that they care about and what to be able to keep doing. Your contribution can be greatly appreciated, but isn’t required. Not everyone has money to dedicate to things, and some people have limited budgets that they’ve set aside for things like paying for media — the goal isn’t to paygate things to exacerbate financial inequalities by depriving people of information or entertainment, but to provide a means for people who can offer financial support to do so.

Thanking people for their efforts — from the person who posts a daily list of action items for you to follow to the volunteers who help your organisation function — means a lot, and can help people feel more engaged and committed to a mutual effort of interest or concern. It’s unreasonable to expect people to commit to unpaid labour without any kind of acknowledgment of their work, almost as though ignoring their very existence and focusing on their product will allow you to dodge the question of whether they should be paid. To the contrary, it just makes people feel prickly, unpleasant, and used.

So say ‘thank you.’ Go find a person doing a thing that matters to you and tell them about it, making it clear that you value their contribution to your life. Don’t make that thanks contingent on something, or suggest that you now have some kind of ownership over the person in question.

Just say thanks.

That’s all.

Image: Thank you, Eystein Mack Alnaes, Flickr