Last year, following the 2016 presidential election, I sent Hillary Rodham Clinton a thank you note for pounding on the glass ceiling so hard, for so long. Last week she sent me a thank you note for my thank you note and it really moved me.
There was a moment during the final debate where she spoke frankly, and with almost visible contempt for her opponent’s ignorance, about late term abortions and the kind of decision that truly is for a woman. In that moment I felt represented in a way I suddenly realized I never had before. Pregnancy, birth, the awesome responsibility of walking around in a female body, she was speaking about these things, and poised to make policy, from inside one. So I thanked her for that, and for her work on the Children’s Health Insurance Program as first lady, which my son was on for a time and which several self-employed parent friends have leaned on, as well.
Clinton’s reply was personalized, she referenced my mention of CHIP, and while clearly, it was generated by a combination of form letter and intern, it followed all the rules about writing a thank you note (aside from not being hand written), though admittedly, most don’t include a disclaimer at the bottom that says, “Contributions or gifts to Hillary for America are not tax deductible. Paid for by Hillary for America.”
If you want to be cynical, and who doesn’t from time to time, you could argue that these thank you notes are a political ploy to humanize and soften the image of a woman who has consistently been labeled as unlikable and cold. But that’s the power of the thank you note in a nutshell, isn’t it? They’re real and genuine, and although prescribed by etiquette rules, they’re not stuffy. They may feel old-fashioned, but never dated.
We’re living through a time of enormous change in terms of what is expected of interpersonal relationships, both professional and personal. We’re obsessed with the idea of gratitude, but a lot of what passes for thankfulness is downright solipsistic. We stay in touch with our hundreds of “friends” on social media, but seem to be lonelier than ever before (paywall).
The graciousness of a thank you note, especially when handwritten and addressed, says, hey, our relationship is analog and I’d like to keep it that way. I like you enough to have written your address down somewhere. Maybe let’s have a cup of tea or couple of Sharkys and a real conversation. It’s a a radical expression of politeness and appreciation, but also intimacy. Stock up on those pens you like, buy some nice cards and get a little old-fashioned.