Oppressive Civility

A Recent Note from Zimm
My company has a very small Bistro, which is run by M.  Every day, she emails the office with a ‘food-for-thought’ – so to speak.

For some reason, I thought today’s thought was something that I wanted to share.

“Civility” has a new vocabulary. “Welcome”, which originally combined the Old English words for “pleasure” and “guest” to express an openness to visitors, was re-branded by Shakespeare as a response to “thank you”. Since 1900, it has been automatic. Not anymore.

In “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” marketing and psychology professor Robert Cialdini cautions that the reciprocal “thanks/You’re welcome” leaves us with a power struggle—a sense of obligation for a larger return favor. And, the speaker of the phrase “you’re welcome” gets the last word, creating a subtle tension.

Now “you’re welcome” has taken on a sarcastic gloating tone. Will Ferrell took his George W. Bush SNL impression to Broadway with his one-man show entitled “You’re Welcome America”, which depicted the 43rd President as incompetent and entitled. The arrogant alter-ego of Stephen Colbert gave a “you’re welcome” to his home state of South Carolina. Damien Sandow of the WWE and Kobe Bryant also joined in on using the new meaning.

Now the gag/phrase is common on Twitter to introduce an idea, picture, and whatever silliness comes along. The new rudeness of “you’re welcome” is not really stealing a phrase spoken with sincerity or grace. The words, when combined with an arrogance and edge, are generally used by males in the tech sector. (Girls are usually more insightful about words and have their own issues with praise and thanks.)

Cootz’s Experience
I found myself writing no problem instead of you’re welcome 13-14 years ago when I started teaching online classes. It only lasted a little while. Something about it sounded weird and went against my upbringing. I adjusted about halfway through the first semester.

Robert’s Thoughts
My laid back and slacker like nature made “No problem” work for me until someone pointed out that “Hell, yeah! It was a problem!” and that “You’re welcome!” was the appropriate response.

The conversation petered out.  The question lingered, though.  Is expecting a formal, stylized response a covert power struggle?  The workplace is a culture of its own.

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