Saturday, August 08, 2009

Two important phrases

One of my daughters has a job abroad this summer as a nanny. With her kind and outgoing personality, not to mention lots of experience with nieces and nephews, she's a natural for child care.

But she's found out something interesting with her little charges, a seven year old boy and a three year old girl. Being children of a well-to-do family (the sort that can afford a foreign nanny for the summer), they've been raised with pretty much everything handed to them. My daughter, who is supposed to expose them to English, is finding that another vital part of her job is exposing them to the two critical phrases that make so much difference in human interaction:

Please and Thank You.

When I was young, my mother and father drilled into us the importance of saying “please” and “thank you” asking things of others. I always thought of it as good manners, and continued the habit with my own children. As soon as they were able to understand, requests had to be accompanied by “please”, and “thank you” was demanded whenever something was done for them. They learned, because they had no option – and now they are teaching those same manners to their children (or nieces and nephews, as the case may be.)

Perhaps it's the distance of grandparenting, but as I watch this habit of courtesy being inculcated into the next generation, I'm appreciating that this simple habit is more than just a social habit, a mannerly convention. I'm seeing that making these simple phrases part of our basic human interaction radically affects how we view and deal with others.

I've heard it said that we humans are at a sensory disadvantage when it comes to how we perceive the world. From our earliest days, our senses tell us that we're at the center of the universe. What we see, hear, feel, and so on gives us the impression that the world does revolve around us. Only what others tell us, how they treat us, and how we're taught to treat them, can disabuse us of that notion.

Learning to ask “please” is an important tool in that effort. When we use that phrase, we acknowledge the humanity of the other person. We're not treating them as a means to an end, but as an equal, of whom we are making a request. I think this is particularly important for children to learn toward parents, because parents actually are de facto slaves to their children when they are young and dependent. Even young children are not stupid, and can realize that those big people are pretty much at their beck and call. But when they get old enough to realize that they can exploit this, they can begin to learn that important phrase that forces them to realize that Mom & Dad – and everyone else – are to be treated with dignity.

Thanks are what we offer when we appreciate something that has been done for us. It is a simple expression of gratitude – but gratitude does not come naturally. Those under the illusion that the universe revolves around them do not express gratitude. Only those who have learned that it doesn't realize that grace is part of existence, and gifts should be appreciated. Interestingly, learning to express thanks cultivates the realization that the universe doesn't revolve around us. Learning thanks is not only an expression of maturity, but a path to it.

It is to my parent's credit that I was grown and out into the world before I learned what the phrase “treating someone like an object” even meant. I'd heard it, but it mystified me. I only came to understand it when I encountered people who did that. Oddly, those were the very people who so rarely said “please” and “thank you”.

I wonder if there was a connection?

1 comment:

Michele Thomas said...

There's *no* substitute for please and thank you--and I learned that the same place you did. I find myself requiring (kindly) these courtesies from children who aren't even related to me. We do children a great kindness by inculcating these courtesies.