Common or Uncommon Courtesy

I’ve been listening to NPR late at night as I try to fall asleep … the soft murmur of indistinct voices is oddly soothing, as though discussion of the world’s issues is important but no longer requires my input or feedback.

But the teacher in me still has an immediate need to comment on the style of some of the commentary … I enjoy the snippets from Ted Talks frequently shared … and the varying segments of music that bridge the gap between topics and news and BBC reports. A less than focused me can listen in but has no responsibility to retain and/or respond.

But there is something about these episodes that has elicited the editorial edge of this retired teacher, and it occurs predictably at the end of each brief interview.  The staff member of the local radio station thanks the participating interviewee, and the interviewee unfailingly responds to the thanks offered by saying “Thank you for having me.”

The first two or three times I heard this response, I wondered if cue cards were offered to provide nervous interviewees an acceptable, brief response. But if so, why not suggest the simple response “You’re welcome,”  or perhaps “My pleasure.” As I listened night after night, I continued to hear “Thank you for having me.” And it began to discomfort me.  Why, I asked myself. What is it about “Thank you for having me” that rings somehow wrong?

I talked with a few friends about this at lunch today, and while one agreed with my expectation to hear “You’re welcome,” another said the response was acceptable, as it is a polite way to return the thanks to the giver.  I had to agree that it is polite.  And yet…

To me, “Thank you for having me” alters the stage a bit.  The journalist’s “Thank you” to the guest speaker establishes the speaker as having provided something to the radio audience, at the request of the radio host. That puts the guest in the position of the giver, and the audience and radio station as the receivers of the gift. The guest telling the radio host “You’re welcome” effectively, politely, closes the dialogue between the giver and the receiver.

When the guest instead says “Thank  you for having me,” the dialogue is not yet closed, yet to the radio audience it is ended, unclosed. And the guest is no longer confidently standing in the position of  giver; rather, the guest is now positioned as the receiver of a favor or gift. And while that may, in fact, be a true reflection of a program, it seems better to reflect on the guest as having provided the gift of expertise, information, entertainment or whatever, rather than having received the favor of air time, publicity, experience or whatever being a guest may provide.

I guess that change in position is what troubles me. If I’m listening to a radio program, I don’t want to think that I’m listening to someone who may not have truly earned the right to that spotlight.

I wonder what that says about me?

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