The Magic Words ~ Please and Thank You
No. 20, August 2001
The word 'please' changes the tone completely.
- Donald McCullough
Recently, while watching a group of toddlers, I was amazed at the courteousness they displayed. When asking for their sippy-cups, they lined up and asked the teacher "Milk please?" Ok, most of them said something along the lines of "Mmlk peas," but the intent was clearly there. Here was an age-group known developmentally to be self-centered, yet they were exhibiting the correct behaviors. Now, if toddlers can be taught to wait their turn and to say "please" and "thank you," certainly can we reintroduce these phrases back into the adult vernacular?
A Simple Skill ~ Ask any child "What is the magic word?" and they will likely respond "please." Why is something that was so engrained in our early vocabulary so quickly forgotten? Some would say it is a feeling of entitlement. That we deserve to have want we want and we do not need to ask nicely for anything. Others would argue that society on a whole is on a downward spiral. I have a slightly more positive view. I believe that as with any skill, we need to practice our "pleases" and "thank you's." Occasionally, we need a reminder. As children, we were asked for the magic word, but this is not the best prompting for adults. Here are some alternative ideas.
Fight Fire With Flowers ~ Despite sometimes feeling otherwise, I do not condone responding to bad behavior with more bad behavior. So what is a gentleperson to do in today's society? During a telephone conversation with my doctor's office, the woman at the other end told me that if I was really that ill I should "go to the emergency room." Of course, it was not just the uncaring words, but her snide tone that truly bothered me. Instead of escalating the interaction, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. We all have bad days every now and then. When I visited the office a week later, I brought her flowers with a note saying that I hoped this week would be better than the last. In return I received a sincere phone call with her thanks for being so understanding. (As it was, she had been at the hospital on-call for over 48 hours immediately prior to our initial conversation.)
Courtesy Is Contagious ~ Years ago, when I lived in the city, I would have a bit of fun while riding the subway during rush hour. Anyone who has worked all day and then squeezed on to a subway to fight their way home has seen tempers run high. Since I boarded the train at an early stop, there were almost always seats. I would sit, until I saw someone who needed the seat more than I did. Then in a firm tone, I would offer my seat. The tone was more for those around me than the seat recipient. It was interesting to notice that on the days that I offered my seat, those around me, at subsequent stops, would also offer their seats to those in need. However, on days when I sat with my nose in a book, rarely would any seats be offered. Remember, your good example can set off a positive chain reaction.
In our fast-paced world, it is not uncommon to hear those who are anti-etiquette complain that being nice just takes too long. Or worse, they insist that the "please" and "thank you" are implied. But it is precisely because we live in a fast-paced world that those small niceties become so much more important. As Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners) advocates, common courtesy is the oil that greases the wheels of society. So remember, when you meet those squeaky wheels, please be sure to give them extra grease. Thank you.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ How old should my son be before I start teaching him to say 'please' and 'thank you' when he asks for things?
Even before he is able to say please and thank you, your son is able to hear your voice and learn from your example. When he is an infant, you can hold up both ends of the conversation. That way when he is able to speak, the words please and thank you are familiar and will come easily.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My husband expects a thank you when he does something he deems to be my job. Yesterday, he stormed into the kitchen during breakfast and said "You did not even thank me for making the bed!" When I pointed out that every other morning, he never thanked me for making the bed he just sputtered.
Hum, it sounds like there is a lot going on here. From an etiquette standpoint, I believe that there can never be enough thanks, especially around the house, whether the task is officially someone's job or not. From a marriage standpoint, it sounds like both you and your husband may be feeling under appreciated. I suggest a long walk where the two of you can talk about what is on your minds.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Do I need to couch every request to my secretary with "please?"
Do you want your secretary to know that you appreciate the work he/she does? Do you want your secretary to love working for you? Do you want your secretary to know that you respect his/her work? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then start using please as often as possible!
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