Our desi parents brought us up teaching us to thank people a lot. If we weren’t saying “I’m sorry”, A Thank You and a Shukriya (in Urdu/Hindi) would be thrown around a lot with people outside the family. It was a big thing to not apologize- as a nine year old, I had an epic tiff with my older sister when I refused to say sorry after I shouted at her, which I did because she didn’t say sorry when she brushed my feet with the floor mop. By mistake! These were times when our parents were our heroes and everything they did was always the right thing.
Then came my rebellious teenage years when I wanted to do things differently, different from my friends and family. I thought it was cool to not conform. I started using the Arabic phrase “JazakAllah Khair” (Arabic for “May God reward you in goodness” ) instead of the Thank Yous with Muslims because it was new and different. It was used by someone my aunt didn’t really like very much, but it sounded cool and exotic to me.
I now have a more mature head over my shoulders as a twenty-something year old. I frequently use both a Thank You and a JazakAllahKhair, but the former is the one that comes naturally, while I use the latter more when I am not being myself.
But despite these changes over a Thank You over time, there was and is a catch – one thing has remained unchanged. We don’t want to be thanked for things that we think we were absolutely obligated to do. A Thank You for something, to me at least, would mean we were being thanked for doing something extra that we didn’t have to do, or something we weren’t expected to do, or that we were outsiders.
Over the past several months, as I have consciously been trying to get out of my shell and shyness(some of it hypocritical), I try to talk to just about every person I can and be friendly- on the bus, with the taxi driver, with my co-passengers, my neighbors, the people I cross paths with on pavements and so on. This has also meant I help people out much more often, and that I volunteer more. Recently, a set of Thank Yous came home to trouble me when on one such volunteering program, the lead volunteer kept thanking me profusely over three weeks. I now realize it may have been to encourage me to volunteer more but back then, I was slightly annoyed even if I retained my smile. I really wanted to volunteer, and wanted to be part of the group that was simply doing its duty and wasn’t after any recognition or compliments, but the Thank Yous somehow gave me an outsider feeling, that I was going over and above what I was duty-bound to do or what was expected of me. It gave me the impression that I was doing this, or wanted to do this or that people may think I’m doing this for the compliments and the Thank Yous. Well, the truth was I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer, because of the intrinsic goodness of the volunteering activity and not anything else.
I am now at peace with this issue- I did not have to prove anything to anyone. I know my intention when I am doing something good. I know God knows what is in my heart, and He will reward me and He will reward me by my intentions. Isn’t that what we were looking for, after all?