The favor of a response

By Helen Warren

With spring comes the season of celebration, when people come together to witness weddings and graduations, to celebrate births, and to honor familial ties. The invitations have started to arrive. In a very real sense, the party begins when the invitation arrives. Its details spur our imagination of the event. We conceive of the place and people who will gather, and we begin to anticipate it, considering its appeal or lack thereof. Of course, the event exists in the imagination of the host long before the invitation arrives. Hosts imagine the pleasure an event might produce and take steps to delight their guests and make them comfortable without wasting effort or expense. The invitation draws the prospective guests into this process. Because these events hold importance for those who host and those invited to attend, a convention has developed, over centuries of human history. By issuing invitations, hosts signal that the event is out of the ordinary, something to anticipate. By providing the favor of a response, the guests convey their appreciation for the invitation and their desire that the celebration be enjoyable, even if they do not attend. The reciprocal gestures of invitation and response (literally repondez s’il vous plait or “please respond”) acknowledge that at least two people can imagine the event succeeding.

Much effort and ingenuity is invested in inviting. An industry exists to produce invitations, and hosts carefully weigh the choices and conventions about their form and artistry. Less effort is invested in the response. In fact, electronic invitations have reduced the effort a response requires to a click or two.

So why is it that many invited guests fail to respond? Standard explanations cite the busy-ness of our lives and the uncertainties of our schedules. I think it has more to do with the limits of our imaginations. If we don’t take the time to regard invitations carefully and to respond as requested, we are in effect saying, “Your event does not exist in my imagination and I am not responsible for its success.” So it is that hosts face the real possibility that all the planning and expense invested in the event will be jeopardized as guests arrive who were not expected. Extra chairs must be produced, the food must be supplemented or stretched, hastily written name tags appear alongside those carefully printed prior to the event. To avoid last minute adjustments, many hosts prepare too much food and then must dispose of it, adding to the expense and waste. The problem is compounded if invited guests bring friends the host did not anticipate.

The favor of a response is a small gesture all of us can offer, regardless of our circumstances or status. It signals to the host that their effort is appreciated. So in this season of celebration, do your part by offering the favor of a response.

Helen Warren is the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and can be reached at [email protected]