Recently, a marketing company decided to see how many people say thank you when someone holds a door open for them. They hunkered down at a number of coffee shops, malls and other places with a lot of foot traffic, and most importantly doors, and started counting. Their goal was to see how many people say thank you, broken down by demographics, at what locations, in what neighborhoods, etc. It’s a neat idea and of course, it got a lot of attention in the local media. But I would like for a minute to talk about the entire concept of saying thank you when someone holds the door open for you and I’d like to suggest this; it’s poppycock.

Ok. Ok. Calm down. For starters, I (almost) ALWAYS say thank you when someone holds the door open for me. I want to show them that what they’ve done has made my day slightly easier (and sometimes slightly easier can go a long way) and that I’ve noticed them doing that for me. I want to show my appreciation. But several years ago, I started to think about the whole concept and here’s what I came up with.

Who Asked You?

Did the person coming towards the door ASK you to hold the door open for them? Did they yell, “Hold the door please?” No. Then why are you holding the door open for them? Are you sure they wanted you to hold the door open for them? Are they a pretty woman who’s been leered at constantly by people holding the door for them? Do they look older and they’re constantly being stereotyped as someone who would need someone’s help in opening the door? Are they handicapped in some way and you believe that they couldn’t get the door themselves? In the film Murderball, a wheelchair rugby player says;

“When you ask me in a parking lot if I need you to put my bags in my van, do you know how stupid that is? Do you think I drive to get groceries just hoping, on the off chance, that someone is going to put my groceries away for me?”

These all seem a little extreme but they’re part of the every day experience of a great number of people. But that’s not the real problem.

Who Are You Holding The Door For?

It sounds like a stupid question. Obviously you’re holding the door for them. But are you? Because if you were actually holding the door for them, would it matter if they said thank you or not? No. If you’re angry because someone didn’t say thank you while you held the door open for them, you’re not holding the door open for them, you’re holding the door open so they’ll say thank you.

Think about it. Is your act of kindness about trying to make someone’s day easier or is it about patting yourself on the back. “Look at me. I held the door open for that person. Aren’t I great?” No. You’re not. I mean, maybe you are. But holding the door open for someone so that they’ll thank you doesn’t make you great.

A Life of Service

It’s a concept I learned through my religious studies but it’s a concept that should echo throughout the human experience. I hold the door open because I want to make someone’s day or life better in an infinitesimally small way. If they say thank you, that’s wonderful. If they wave when I let them out in traffic, that’s great. But you don’t know what’s going on in their life. You don’t know what they’re thinking. That man who you just held the door for who didn’t say thank you? Maybe he’s on his way home to tell his wife he lost his job. That woman who didn’t wave when you let her in in traffic? Maybe she’s on her way to her best friend’s funeral.

The fact is that you don’t know what is happening inside anyone else’s head. Ever. So you need to make a decision. Am I going to hold the door because I want to make other people’s lives better or am I not? And if you’re not, that’s fine. But don’t get mad at me because I didn’t pat you on the back today.