The Problem with “No Problem”: A Discourse on Discourse

“Thank you,” said Stella to her neighbor as he returned her runaway cat.  “No problem,” he replied.  Really?  No problem!  He had run halfway down the block chasing the animal and then delivered him to his owner.  And, yes, Stella could have chased him down herself.  But if it was really no problem, then why should Stella feel obligated to thank him? 

Words can convey precise feelings.  They impact relationship dynamics.  “Thank you” implies a debt.  I am a supplicant on bended knee before my superior.  “My pleasure,” “delighted,” “of course,” “you bet,” or, preferably, “you’re welcome,” lifts me back up to an equal position.  And it assures me it’s okay to request a favor. 

“No problem” dismisses my valuing your help.  It rejects my appreciation as trivial.  You are the king who walks away, leaving me, the bowing peasant, feeling humiliated.  I want you to acknowledge my thanks and allow me to rise up to your level in the throne room:  “We’re friends.  You don’t have to call me ‘Your Majesty.’  Forget the Roman numerals.  Just call me, George.”

So, in the future, don’t respond to my “thank you” with “no problem.”  You sound dismissive, indifferent, even disdainful.  You might as well just tell me, “Hey, next time do it yourself!” 

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