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A Simple Thank You Will Do

Please. Thank you. While we’re adding LOL and OMG to the dictionary, please and thank you are in danger of being taken out. Why? Because nobody uses them anymore.

I’ll be the first to admit that common courtesy was never all that common. Even back in my day young people who said “please” and “thank you” and who were courteous were thought to be remarkable. It is even more remarkable now, when requests are expressed as demands and most of the population runs around acting as if they’re entitled to something. 

Being courteous is merely a matter of respecting the person you’re addressing. Unless you have reason not to, everyone should be treated with respect, particularly people you’re not well-acquainted with. The golden rule, treat others as you’d like yourself to be treated, seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth. These days, the prevailing attitude is treat everyone like crap because that’s all you can expect to be treated as.

I’m not sure what caused this turn of events, but it certainly seems to be the case. I wonder when the lowest common denominator became the social norm – this kind of behavior was associated with the worst elements of society back in the day. We seem to be disposed to make a minimal effort to be courteous.

Part of it is the advent of the web. We can say and do anything with the anonymity of screen names. We can engage in flame wars, spout off any outrageous attention-seeking remark, degrade, humiliate and wound at will all from the privacy of our own laptop. Rather than criticize constructively, we reduce our remarks to “that sucks” or “that’s so gay.” When pressed, often the critic can’t even tell you what sucks – it’s just easier (and more amusing) to tear down than to build up.

I’ve heard kids yell out “Mom….get me a soda!” while they were busy at the important pursuit of playing on the PlayStation. If I’d ever have yelled that at my mom, she would have yelled back “Did your legs fall off during the night?” and she’d have told me in no uncertain terms to get my own soda…or that I couldn’t have one at all. I quickly learned that if I asked her if she could get me a soda, she might actually do so if I used “Please” as part of the sentence and gave her a “thank you” when she brought the soft drink. The lesson was that if I wanted something, courtesy and politeness was a more likely route than demands and petulance.

That lesson seems to be dropped from the syllabus. Either kids aren’t getting the lesson, or their parents aren’t teaching it. Either way, society seems to be adopting the opposite as a whole. The person who shouts the loudest gets what they want, and that seems to be pretty universal.

Part of it comes from pure selfishness. We want what we want and we want it now! We can’t be bothered with niceties – it’s too time-consuming in a society that has become dominated by a short attention span that borders on the psychotic. We have become so self-focused that even common courtesy has become too much to ask for. We’re rapidly losing our empathy, and that’s what makes it scary.

The odd thing is we get plenty of fake courtesy at fast food places and retail stores. “Thank you for choosing McDonalds,” “Welcome to Wal-Mart;” they use please and thank you so often that it becomes meaningless and insincere. Perhaps that’s partly why we don’t use it ourselves – we begin to sound a bit like the drive-through window at Taco Bell.

But that’s just an excuse at best. We as a society are finding it difficult to see beyond our own immediate self-gratification and that’s incredibly dangerous. We have lost the will to sacrifice for the betterment of the society; we’ve lost the will to fight for our rights and we’ve definitely lost the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves unless maybe it’s Facebook or Halo Online.

Maybe things get better with a simple word. Maybe we start saying “please” when we want something and “thank you” when we get it – and meaning it – might start changing attitudes towards other things as well. Maybe we start being kinder to people around us, people start being kinder to us. Perhaps if we’re courteous to others, others will start showing courtesy to us. Maybe the road to a better world is simply not just making demands and lacking gratitude but the realization that we’re all in this together and the nicer we are to one another, the better things will be. It’s not rocket science but it seems beyond us these days.

So here’s the deal: random acts of courtesy. Start saying thank you once a day to someone, even if it’s for something negligible. Thank you for making the coffee. Thank you for letting me sit next to you at lunch. Thanks for the other night at the club when you bought me a drink. Then, after a week of that, up the ante – say it twice a day. A week later, three times, and so on. I guarantee you’ll start seeing more of that back in your direction. And don’t be shy about telling your friends about it. Maybe random acts of kindness are a little much to ask – but random acts of courtesy cost you nothing but two one-syllable words sincerely meant. Thank someone and mean it. Be grateful for the things that are done for you because there may come a time when no-one does anything for anybody. Won’t that be a sad world to live in.


5 Responses

  1. I ALWAYS say “please” and “thank you” whether it is to a clerk, a cop, whoever. I was taught to be polite by my parents and my teachers reinforced that. Whenever we encountered a baby, we would teach the baby to say “ta-ta”, of course baby talk for “thank you” so politeness was also approved through peer pressure. I’m just glad my parents didn’t insist that we call them “ma’am” and “sir”: I had friends whose straight-from-the-South parents did this. Courtesy is a lost art, sadly, a side effect created by the dumbing-down of this society.

  2. I also always say “please” and “thank you”, and I hold the door for the people that walk behind me, I say “thank you” when they do it for me, I say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” when I cannot pass people behind them so have to go in front of them (no clue if that was correct English, it is my second language, and sometimes, I just write and speak Englutch. Today is a day like that. My apologies :)), in a store aisle or something. I always step aside when I am in someones way, so they can pass me easily.
    I don’t see many like me anymore, unfortunately…

  3. Thank you Carlos for another wonderful piece of writing. Please keep it up. Did you get my Facebook email?

  4. thankyou carlos for a well written and very sincere peice of writing.its very true that please and thankyou have gone out the window ,i am constantly reminding my 12 yr old about saying these 2 simple words…without fail of keeping it up.a reminder gets him to say it but then it is easily forgotten. my grandchildren are brought up with please and thankyou constantly i know if it is not kept up societies bad habits will over take and they will stop using these words.
    my attitude to my 12yr old is very much like your mothers i get told to get me a drink or can i have some money for the shop.my response is get off your backside and do it yourself,tro the latter a straight no.if i am asked nicely with a please the answers tend to be a yes.otherwise i always say no.
    i work in retail and so many customers do not use the simple thankyou when they have been helped in the shop with their purchases very few say please when asking for help as it is seen to be our job to do these tasks for them.i am talking of older persons not just younger …seems everyone no matter what age have forgotten the two most simple forms of courtesy.what a great shame it is that even the older generations have forgotten.

  5. Being polite is the oil that lubricates social interaction. It also used to be a sign that you were a gentleman and lady. I can hear the laughter, but bettr than being a clod. Thanks Carlos

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