The lost art of the hand-written thank-you note

3 07 2012

     I’ve just come through the end of a school year where many accolades are given and parting smiles are exchanged. I received more than my share of teacher gifts, handwritten cards and pictures from students, parents and colleagues. It’s a warm and fuzzy time of year where petty disagreements are forgotten and difficult conversations are shelved. In approaching the countdown, I had to make a decision on how I would express my sentiments to each of the members of my staff. The downside of the “post and fill” process that hundreds (thousands?) of teachers go through in our province is that the staff team you were a part of may not be the group you will join in September. So, I asked myself, Should I send them an email or write them a note?

I came to the conclusion that it’s too easy to fire off a 3 sentence email of appreciation: Collect your thoughts, hit “compose” on Gmail, type for 60 seconds and hit “send”. Done. Accomplished. Finito. For it’s the thought that counts, right? I thought about the gesture of acknowledging someone’s kindness and I acted on it. In that sense, there’s a lot to be said for the spontaneous thank-you by form of an impromptu text or an email.

I have been the both the sender and the recipient of these emails and texts and so have you. It’s nice to express appreciation and even better to be appreciated.

But think now of the handwritten thank-you cards that you received throughout the year in your staff mailbox, on your desk or delivered in person. The sender had to purchase that stationery and spend some moments thinking about the suitability of the picture on the cover. Think about the way you felt when you untucked the envelope, cracked the folded note open, scanned the scrawl and quickly peeked at who sent it before reading it in its entirety (everyone does that, don’t they?).  Notice the colour of the ink, the smudges, (especially if the sender is left-handed) and the date at the top. Perhaps your eyes are drawn to the slightly downward angle of the first line and you notice that the subsequent lines tail off even steeper. Block letters, loopy cursive or the star that was used to dot the “i” (or a smiley face or a large circle). You can tell immediately if it was written quickly or if care and attention was given to each sentence, each phrase, each word and each letter. Handwritten letters have so much personality and room for creativity!

But I feel that it is the signature on the bottom that exemplifies the uniqueness of the gesture and the thoughtfulness of the individual. That is something that cannot be replicated with a word processor or the querty pad of a cell phone. Bottom line: it takes more time and effort to hand write out a note and I suppose that is why it means so much to the one who receives it. That the sender felt that I was important enough to go the extra mile. These most personal of messages are relationship builders and friendship sustainers.

I hope that these types of notes survive. They may not be as efficient as other modern day options, but they’re certainly more meaningful. And if they end up at the back of a drawer or displayed on a table for a few days, it will probably last longer there than in a computer’s inbox.