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Friday, March 16, 2012

please and thank you

Last night I was already in bed when Rachael took the dogs out for their late night potty break.  I had been almost asleep when she came and called Maggie and Gabriel out. I woke up enough to realize there was a very cool breeze from the open window.  It had been warm enough during the day that I’d opened it for the fresh air and I’d forgotten to open it. Now it was too cold.

When Maggie came back in I asked Rachael to close the window.  I don’t even think I said please, but it was a request, not a demand.  She didn’t grouch. She didn’t demand that I say ‘please.’ She didn’t even stomp her feet on the way to the window.  She simply went across the room and closed it.

It started me thinking how complicated ‘correct’ social behavior can make life. So much interaction between close friends and family is made difficult by selfish quirks and the desire to make even loved ones jump through hoops of our own self regard.  

When I studied Navajo I discovered that traditionally the Dineh did not have a word for our polite ‘please.’  The assumption was that if you could help you would do so because tomorrow or next week or next month you might be in a position to make the same request of them. It's probably changed now since anglo society is making inroads into Navajo ways. Yes, sometimes the situation was taken advantage of, but the same thing happens in our society even when someone uses a polite and respectful ‘please’ before their request. 

I’ve known two women in my life who were very particular about folks using the polite forms of speaking in any situation.  Their children were severely reprimanded for not saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’   They were subjected to harsh repercussions if they were so excited about some childish thing if they interrupted an adult conversation no matter how trivial. They ran the risk of being ignored completely if they didn’t approach mom in a polite way to ask something or tell her something.  Others were treated to a cold stare if a please was omitted.  Or sometimes even an outright reproof--not very politely worded.

The thing is, the women could be very self serving in their own actions. They had no qualms about interrupting a conversation—politely—but still the interrupted with the assumption that what they had to say was oh so much more intellectual and knowledgeable than what you were saying.  They used the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ but the phrases cloaked a demand and arrogance that showed through clearly.  Their attitudes and expressions were rude and arrogant regardless of their cloak of courtesy. 

The one, thankfully, has mellowed since she came to know the Lord.  The other divorced her husband under almost concocted circumstances and has alienated her children.  She is now a lonely and emotionally isolated woman.

I heard it said once that manners oil the wheels of personal interactions. But I’m not so sure. Sometimes I think they make things more antagonistic because real motivations and emotions are hidden behind the facade of civility and a polite conversation.  Responses are then forced into conformity and amiability.  Because ‘polite’ words were used people are forced to comply and not reject the request or overture outright as they might were it not hidden behind politeness.

 I’ve noticed that when relationships begin to break down, the courtesy becomes more compelling with a huge under-current of hostility.   When friends or couples are angry the ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’  fly thick and fast, but the anger and bitterness isn’t hidden at all. And all the polite words in the world don’t keep the situation from escalating.  In solid loving relationships, the courtesy is not so evident because the love and innate consideration of one another permeates every essence of the bond.   How much better it could be if all interactions were motivated by honest affection or emotion (good or bad) and left to rest as they were stated.

So, half asleep, I asked Rachael to close the window for me.  And she simply came and did it. 

Of course, it could always be said her actions were based on a life-time of obedience, but she’s an adult.  She doesn’t obey me anymore.   She doesn’t have to.  Her response to my request was motivated by love, whether or not I said ‘please.’ 

Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;  That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.  Eph 5:2-3

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