Thankful Thursday feature looking for good news

We officially are declaring our Thankful Thursday experiment a success.

For the past six Thursdays, we have dedicated our letters to the editors column to comments expressing gratitude and requested feedback from readers.

One person said the Thankful Thursday letters were boring and recommended discontinuing the practice. Many, many others, however, thought it was a great idea.

We'll admit, some of the Thankful Thursday letters might be a little boring. After all, controversy makes for interesting reading, and there often is not a lot of controversy in someone expressing gratitude.

But we have to point out that some of the messages have been powerful.

Like the letter from a veteran dying of cancer who had been befriended at the homeless shelter. Or the one from a father who had been jobless for nearly half the year, when a stranger stopped him in a store and gave him $100.

One of the first responses we got was from a teacher in Pasco who has a lot of low-income students. She was so taken with our experiment that she said would like to alter her lesson plan to include a Thankful Thursday each week. Even those with little can find much to be grateful for, she believes.

Here's part of a response from another reader, "In sum, I think it is ingenious. I enjoy reading the letters because it reinforces my belief that there is value to kindness, generosity, and service to our neighbors. The negative side of the human condition seems to fill the media more than 'treat your neighbor as you wish they would treat you.' I think the column is providing a positive energy that I hope will inspire further kind acts of compassion and generosity in our homes, workplaces, and the community."

This seems to be true.

We've noticed that the day after Thankful Thursday we often had a rush of letters expressing similar sentiments. Good news begets good news.

One woman called and said she doesn't subscribe to the paper, but will be sure to buy one on Thursdays just to read our new feature.

Who says good news doesn't sell papers? It looks like at least one customer is willing to pay for some.

What's the big deal about thank you letters? Well, traditionally newspapers don't run them at all at the risk of being overrun with messages that ought to be sent directly to the benefactor.

Until our Thankful Thursday experiment, we also rejected most thank you letters.

We really are breaking with tradition here. Hence the decision to test the waters first.

We wanted to avoid letters thanking businesses for doing their jobs, especially the ones that smell of advertising in disguise. Most businesses recognize the self-serving value of keeping their customers happy, and continued patronage is thanks enough.

We also weren't crazy about thanks-for-not-stealing-my-stuff letters. Unless you're a criminal, returning a lost wallet is the only option. Keeping it is theft.

We do recognize, however, that people who have their items returned are extremely grateful and that some businesses go far above and beyond normal customer service requirements.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against bragging about your own good deeds, adding that people who do so have their reward. However, we don't think he would mind if people report the kind acts of others.

Surprisingly, we have had a slower response to Thankful Thursdays than anticipated.

The last two weeks of December are typically a lull for letters to the editor. But acts of random kindness are often at an all-time high during the season. We weren't sure what to expect.

Until today, we've had plenty of letters to fill the space with a few extra to spare. Today we only have two Thankful Thursday letters.

So it comes to this. Readers say they like Thankful Thursday and we will continue to print thank you letters in the new year. The catch is that writers have to supply us with these messages.

If we don't have enough letters to fill the column every week, we will save them until we have enough for a page.

Depending on writer participation, this might or might not be a weekly feature.

But it's one we want to continue.

A forwarded e-mail describing a kind act does not carry the same weight as learning about an anonymous stranger giving cash to an unemployed father in Kennewick's Value Village.

We like the feature. We hope our readers will keep it going for years to come.