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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Think of Thank-yous as Feedback

GENTLE READERS: You give and collect “Likes” and comments on social media. You are not able to buy a tube of toothpaste without being asked, by the business selling it, to evaluate the experience. So you understand the importance of feedback.

Why, then, do you resist writing letters of thanks? That is feedback. Miss Manners would not think it much of a leap to realize that people who take the time and trouble to send you presents want to know how you reacted.

Well, not exactly, which is undoubtedly part of the problem. They do not want to hear that it is the wrong color, the wrong size, something you already have, something not on the list of things you ordered, or something for which you have no use. They want to know that their effort has been successful. They want a Like.

That, too, is part of the problem. You cannot accomplish the task with one click, although some have tried that. You must compose some sentences.

But that, too, should be a concept with which you are familiar: personalization. If, for example, the presents are for your wedding, you will have spent months fussing with ideas of how to personalize the event. How much time did you spend just on deciding what your personal cocktail (whatever that means) should be?

Of course, that experience might have misled you to believe that personalization was all about displaying yourselves. And that therefore, what your generous friends need in return is a photograph of you at the wedding they attended (whenever those come back from the photographer).

Really, all you need is a plain sheet of paper. Cards printed with “Thank you” only point out the fact that thanking is a chore done by rote. So does opening with “Thank you for the ...”

Then you must write something personal -- no, no, not about you again, but about the recipient of the letter and the present that person sent. How kind that person was to think of you, and how thoughtful the present.

Yes, it was, even if you didn’t like it. Your benefactor had to think of you, even if guessing wrong about what would delight you. Letters of thanks are not the occasion to unload your complaints. Everyone needs some positive feedback, and it is in your interest to encourage generous people, who at any rate deserve it.