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Jason Walsh: Chivarly not dead in Sonoma

“If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.” – “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin

Sonoma’s been listening to my mother too much.

“God gave you 86,000 seconds today,” began her daily rhetorical question to us kids. “Have you used one to say, ‘Thank you’?”

While I was certainly hit and miss in carving out 1/86,000th of my days for politesse, Mom would no doubt be rewarding Sonomans with a particularly generous helping of tuna casserole these days – as the amount of graciousness throughout the Valley in recent weeks would be enough to give even Miss Manners an etiquette orgasm.

From the letters to the editor page, to community fundraisers, to City Council meetings, the amount of “thanks you’s” making the rounds boggles the hypothalamus (that’s the part of the brain that feeds on gratitude).

One nonprofit’s membership meeting I attended this spring began with three introductory speeches – that’s, prior to the keynote speaker – that featured almost 20 minutes of thanks you’s to practically everyone in the room beside me (rightly so, I point out; my lack of noteworthiness was acute that day).

Then a following Monday, the Sonoma City Council was in a particularly chivalrous mood, thanking here, thanking there, thanking everywhere – city staff, meeting attendees, folks watching at home. (At this point I would like to thank the Sonoma City Council for its good nature regarding an editorial about their alleged over politeness. Talk about nitpicky.)

But, let’s be honest, in Sonoma time is money. And, more importantly, time is, well… time. And at the risk of sounding discourteous, a lot of thanking can start to add up.

Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for thanking people. At a nonprofit fundraiser, for instance, you thank volunteers and donors whose efforts make the difference in the lives of those in need. That’s a perfunctory thank you.

In municipal meetings of elected and appointed officials, some behind the dais can’t resist ingratiating from the grandstand. That’s a political thank you.

In day-to-day life, of course, we thank people for common courtesy – we thank the staff member at Sonoma Market for helping us out with our bags. That’s called, quite simply: a polite thank you.

And it’s not simply a Sonoma thing – thanking has been trending up for years. There was even a restaurant that opened in San Anselmo called Cafe Gratitude, which fused appreciation with organics in never before seen ways. Menu items were given such names as the “I am Elated Enchiladas” and the “I am Welcoming Stuffed Whole Wheat Phyllo,” and servers were expected to gush positivity at every turn. (The place closed down after staff sued the owners for holding back on their wages.)

Let’s take a closer look at this “thanking” phenomenon – that seems to have bypassed the younger members of the Walsh household! – but blows through the rest of Sonoma like a gale force wind of magnanimity. The English words, “thank you,” derive from “think,” originally implying “I will remember what you did for me.” In Portuguese it’s closer to “much obliged,” which translates to “I’m in your debt.”

The French “merci” comes from “have mercy,” which places one in your benefactor’s power; hence, “you’re welcome” is a release from that power, or an exoneration of sorts. Now that’s powerful Parisian diplomacy.

Despite its fire and brimstone moments, there are many biblical instances of giving credit where credit is due. The earliest-written chapter of the New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, advises, above all, “In everything, give thanks.” (Thessalonians 5:18).

Not to play devil’s advocate with the Bible – but, really, should we be thanking “everything”?

As philosopher William James put it, “Yes and no – yes to everything good, no to everything bad.”

Or, to put it simply: Like anything of value, public thank you’s should be doled out somewhat judiciously – like any precious gemstone, flooding the market only dilutes their value.

As everyone who sits through three hours of Academy Awards every February would probably agree: No, you don’t have to thank the entire Academy.

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards who, in honor of the aforementioned William James, has been everything good to some people, and everything bad to others, has one of the more self-aware attitudes about taking high praise with a grain of salt.

“If you say I’m great, thank you very much,” said Richards. “But I know what I am – I could be better, man, you know?”

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.