Such simple words and phrases.
They are grease for the skids of social interaction and civility.
So why is it hard for some people to use them?
Or am I just being a crank?
Maybe I am.
Let me vent a bit.
I live next to a national forest. I take interest in what happens there because it’s my happy place, where my dogs and I spend so much of our time communing with nature. I attend public meetings hosted by FS administrators and give feedback when asked. At a recent meeting, the local district ranger asked if I’d help disseminate information about an upcoming project to my neighbors since it will directly impact us. I said sure, happy to help. Eventually said district ranger emailed, asking for input and suggestions regarding the time and location of a new public meeting and ways to get information out. I spent considerable time thinking about her request, and responding via email with several suggestions. Then…nada. No “Thank you,” not even an acknowledgement that my email full of suggestions – offered at her request – had been received.
But see what a bad taste it’s left in my mouth, so much so that I’m venting in a blog post?
Yesterday, I received another email from her, asking me to distribute a meeting notice among my neighbors. Again, no thank you or acknowledgement of my earlier email, but she did at least insert the word “please” in her request that I distribute the notice.
I did so. But in a fit of pique, I didn’t respond to her email saying that I would.
Petty of me, I know.
But dammit, sometimes the best way to make a point is by an action (or in this case, inaction), rather than words. I don’t want to be a scold, calling her out in an email. Blah blah blah. Nor would I report her to a supervisor. But I do want her to have a small taste of her own behavior toward me: a lack of acknowledgement of message received, left wondering if it will be acted upon, if the effort involved in sending it was worthwhile. I’m hoping she connects the dots, but I’m not holding my breath.
“She’s busy,” you say, cutting her some slack. Sure. But so am I. And I assert that no one is too busy to be civil.
Is my whining about this a generational thing? Would she – age 35 to my 62 – be justified is saying, “Ok boomer”? I honestly can’t say the lack of civility I see is generational; it comes from people of all ages. I’ve interacted with those in their 20s and 30s who grasp the benefits of civility, and plenty of boomers who don’t. Yet I feel old even using the word “civility.”
That said, it pains me to think someone so lacking in basic civility toward the public has been elevated to a management position in a federal agency. She’s going to end up stepping on lots of toes, probably without realizing why or the implications, and that doesn’t bode well for her career. I actually like her, and want to see her succeed.
Honestly, we could all learn these lessons from our dogs. They’re the masters of please, thank you, you’re welcome and I’m sorry, sometimes all mixed together at the same time. They ask sweetly, forgive immediately, forget quickly, show gratitude for the smallest of favors and are fast to offer kisses acknowledging our gratitude (thank you’s) for their unconditional love toward and acceptance of us with all our foibles and faults. Best teachers ever.
Tough acts to follow, right?
Countless times I’ve encountered those who fail to grasp the importance of four simple ways to communicate: 1) to say “please” when asking for something; 2) to say “thank you” when someone does something for you, or in advance of them doing it; 3) offering a hearty “you’re welcome” when someone does thank you, and 4) offering an apology when there’s a misunderstanding or you’ve done something – purposefully or inadvertently – that causes someone else pain.
That last one – saying I’m sorry – seems to be a real sticking point for many. Too often, people think that by uttering the words “I’m sorry” they’re admitting fault or wrongdoing when they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong. To me – and I hope most people – saying I’m sorry is simply an acknowledgement that feelings have been hurt or a misunderstanding has occurred and I’d like to smooth ruffled feathers and get back on track. It’s opening a door to more communication and understanding. It’s not a parsing of who did what wrong thing, nor is it an admission of guilt. It’s simply moving forward, hopefully without any scorekeeping.
But even “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” make everyday interaction, whether in person or writing, so much smoother and enjoyable. It takes nothing but a fraction of a second to add them to written sentences or conversation with sincerity.
When my father was frail with health challenges toward the end of his life, caregivers were hired to come into his home to help care for him. I’ll never forget one woman, when I took her aside to thank her for taking such good care of my father, replying, “Oh, I love caring for him! He always says thank you, even when it’s something uncomfortable or unpleasant. He’s a joy to be around.” A life lesson, right there.
Another life lesson for me, an experience that cemented for me the importance of saying thank you: A friend’s husband suffered a sudden life-threatening illness that saw him hospitalized for weeks to recover. She asked for help and I, along with others, took shifts visiting him in the hospital, feeding him his meals to ensure he ate and regained strength and didn’t feel so alone while my friend continued to work. This entailed significant effort but I was happy to help. Soon after her husband returned home, my friend sent a group email saying she didn’t have time to say thank you, she was too busy. Now, when I signed up to make those visits, I didn’t expect anything in return; I offered to help with no conditions. Had my friend simply waited to acknowledge my efforts the next time she saw me, whenever that might be, that would have been more than sufficient. What felt like a smack up the side of the head was the email saying she didn’t have time to say thank you to everyone. It came across as rude and ungrateful. No email at all would have been better than the one she sent. No one expected a thank you card, but somehow her email flipped the equation and made us feel like we did expect something and were being too demanding. Ugh.
That episode was a big lesson how not to say thank you.
So, here’s what I’ve learned.
Be gracious. You don’t have to like the person you’re asking to “please” do something, or saying “thank you” to when they’ve done something for you. You say those things because it’s the right thing. You’re not being fake, you’re being kind. If someone does say “thank you” to you, replying “you’re welcome” should be reflexive, even if you don’t particularly care for the person. (I know this is hard if, like me, you have a resting bitch face, but we can work on it.) You certainly don’t have to like the person you say “I’m sorry” to, nor forget any transgressions they’ve made toward you, when you say it. In those instances, you’re saying “I’m sorry” more for your own benefit than theirs.
You say these words and phrases because they make you a better person, they mark you as someone of civility who earns the respect of those with whom you interact. When you fail to use those words and phrases, you’re rude and worthy of contempt. People won’t like you, will avoid you. Saying them makes your own life so much easier, so why not? What’s the down side? Doesn’t matter if it’s your boss, your neighbor, your family, partner or the cashier at the grocery store, everyone deserves basic civility.
Grease those skids. It’s truly worth the effort.