I recently received an email from our web site from a… disgruntled viewer. Essentially, this person’s opinion was that our motivation for starting thegratitudecampaign was to inflate our own ego(s); that it was all about putting the attention on us, rather than on those who serve. And that if we truly wanted to support those who serve, we would do it anonymously. For instance, they argued, we might make a donation to a non-profit anonymously, or we might pay for a service person’s meal in a restaurant anonymously. This is one of the less frequent comments we receive. But it’s not the first time we’ve received it, so I thought it was worth exploring.
First, for the record, I have done both of these. I both personally, and on behalf of thegratitudecampaign, have made donations to non-profits anonymously. I have also paid for service personnel’s meals in public restaurants on several occasions. And I will tell you – if you’ve never done that, I highly recommend it.
One of the reasons that I love paying for meals anonymously is that the receiver – the service member – doesn’t know who paid the tab. They only know that there is someone at that restaurant who appreciates their service. What I love about that is that, if I did identify myself, they would know “here is one person who values my service.” But by not identifying myself, they are left to wonder that it may have been any one of the people in the restaurant. It may be that ALL of the people in the restaurant value their service. By identifying myself, they are valued by one. By not, they may be valued by all. And the truth is that they probably are. I get a bigger emotional charge out of them entertaining that idea than I ever could out of some sense of obligation that they might have to me personally for covering their meal.
That is the pro of anonymous giving. Here is the con:
If I give anonymously, the only two participants in that experience are me, and the receiver. Nobody else in the restaurant witnesses or is affected by that experience (with the one exception being the server who processes the payment). Nobody is inspired by that experience. And so the giving stops there.
You may have seen a commercial on television recently. Much to the chagrin of the ad agency who wrote it, I’m sure, I don’t recall who the ad was for. The commercial shows a series of events, presumably over the course of one day, wherein someone does something nice for someone else. In every scene, there is a third person who witnesses the act of kindness, takes note of it, and is inspired to perform an act of kindness themselves, which we see in the next scene. This process goes on, and on, and small acts of kindness continue to spread to people who have no direct relationship to the person we first saw do something nice. This is the beauty of NOT being anonymous -- kindness has a tendency to spread.
So… there is certainly something to be said for anonymous giving. I’m a huge fan, and I highly recommend it when and where it’s appropriate. For the record, our campaign is in no way, shape, or form about glorifying ourselves as the “thankers”. And while I’m not advocating any sort of need to purposefully call attention to yourself in expressing your gratitude to those who serve, I would ask you to consider that by allowing others to witness your act of kindness you might be an example to them, as well. You never know who you may inspire, and where that may take us all.