Until I started working in an office, I had never experienced the “office cards” thing myself. I actually didn’t realize it was a thing until recently, either. This is likely to be attributed to the gendered roles of emotional labour – I, as a man, don’t really think about these sorts of things because they aren’t expected of me. But, in our office, cards are reliably circulated and initiated by the women of our office. I’m not saying this is right or fair. The truth is, I should take a more proactive role in these sorts of community-building activities because of my membership to the group. In my personal life, I’ve taken the habit with a few friends to regularly send letters or thank-you cards for things that happen, but within a work context, I’ve yet to take the initiative.
Before I left the office for my wedding, my colleagues and bosses gathered around my cubicle to give me a card and wish me well for my upcoming nuptials. The gave me a card with a gift inside. The gift was thoughtful, but truthfully I appreciate the card more. Everyone in the office had signed it without me knowing (as is protocol). A part of me knows that taking a moment to sign a card (especially when everyone is doing it) is a fairly low-effort discharge of obligation; you sign it because someone puts it in front of you and you’d be rude to refuse.
Nevertheless, when I read over the card, and saw everyone’s signatures and well-wishes, it made me happy to be included. I felt a surge of warmth that my colleagues took the time to do this for me. I felt the same way when some of the faculty also signed a card to my wife and I.
And this morning, a card was circulated to celebrate one of our faculty members becoming a grandmother. I felt joy to sign the card, to wish my colleague well and celebrate the birth of her grandchild. It’s such a small but powerful gesture.
But it’s something I felt like I’ve lost until only recently. I don’t know if it’s because it wasn’t as common with my family to give cards when I was growing up, or (the more likely case) that as a child I didn’t understand its significance. That lack of understanding and awareness then was transformed during my transition to adulthood by my lack of care for these sorts of emotional efforts in general. As I mentioned at the top of the post, men aren’t socialized or expected to perform these sorts of tasks, and I’m no exception to this. It isn’t asked of me, nor am I expected to think of these things. Further, no one would blame me for not thinking of this, and I would likely receive a lot of praise if I did.
Truthfully, I’m a lazy person, and I like that this kind of expectation isn’t placed on me. It gives me a free pass to coast and disengage. But, I also acknowledge two things: first, it’s not fair that I get a pass for being a guy while these tasks are expected of women; and second, that receiving signed cards brings me joy, which should motivate me to do the same for others in similar circumstances.
Card that express joy for others fortunes, or cards that acknowledge pain and grief in others are worth sending, because it’s a small, uncommon way to stay connected to others in personal ways. It’s something I should do more often.