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Not So Humble Opinion: August 9, 2012

If Time Is Money, This Could Save Millions

On general principal, showing gratitude isn’t a bad thing, but this epidemic of politicians thanking each other has got to stop. If you’ve been to any sort of government function, and I mean any level of government—be it a board meeting, a forum, a ribbon-cutting, a statue unveiling, whatever—your time has been wasted by the seemingly endless Thank You Merry-Go-Round. It generally goes something like this:

“And now I’d like to introduce Mr. Smith, without whom this project would never have gotten off the ground. I can’t thank Mr. Smith enough for all he’s done for this project, and I know he’s an inspiration to all of us here at Office X. I can’t even imagine how many long hours Mr. Smith put in so we could celebrate here today. In addition to thanking him for what he’s done, I’m also thanking him for all the committee members who can’t also be here to thank him in person. Now, without further ado, I turn you over to Mr. Smith.”

“Thank you, Mr. Jones, but really it’s I who must thank you; for if I’m the inspiration for Office X, you are its engine. Mr. Jones put in plenty of late nights himself over the past few months, and without his contributions I’m quite certain this project never would have come to fruition. In fact, it’s really him, not me, who was the crucial member coming down to the wire. I really can’t thank him enough, and I’m sure my fellow board members can’t thank him enough, and the residents who will eventually benefit from this project can’t thank him enough either.

However, if there was anyone who was just as critical to this project as Mr. Jones, it was Mrs. White. If Mr. Jones was the engine of the project, then Mrs. White was the heart. I really can’t thank her enough, for all that’s she’s done and is doing and will continue to do, and now it’s time for a few words from her…”

Usually by this juncture I’m struggling to stay awake, but my boredom isn’t really the issue; the point is that this is all a huge waste of time. It would be one thing if people were being thanked for really going far and above the call of duty: doing the work of 10 people themselves, coming up with an efficiency that saved millions of dollars, or perhaps even donating one of their own organs to a sick child. However, the default seems to be to thank everyone for everything, which not only cheapens the gesture, but makes it seem like civil servants don’t actually do very much.

Whether it’s true or not, when people are thanked excessively for doing what is basically the job they were hired to do, it seems like everyone is attempting to cover up a massive sense of insecurity that they aren’t doing enough. It’s almost like the assumption is that government workers do nothing, so they have to take advantage of every available opportunity to make it clear they’re accomplishing something. Ad nauseam.

I know this practice has wasted hours of my life in the last several years, and I am but one small columnist. If time really is money, I figure we’d probably be saving about a billion dollars annually if we could somehow get rid of the Thank You Merry-Go-Round.

Therefore, I propose a moratorium on public thanking at all political functions. With that time saved, governments will run more efficiently, meaning they will have to put in fewer late nights to make deadlines, and therefore have less reason to constantly thank each other for their dedication. With this change, functions will decrease in length from one or two hours to about 20 minutes on average, meaning that in addition to the politicians, all the audience members can get back to their jobs that much faster. This would save journalists so much time that they’ll have to start doing more investigative reporting just to keep busy.

And officials, if someone really does contribute to a project in a truly meaningful way and you’d feel remiss if you didn’t communicate your appreciation? Pick up a phone.

Karen Gellender is editor of the Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald.