There were only two big rules in our house when I grew up and they pretty much covered everything. The first was to always observe the Golden Rule. You know that one, right? "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". In other words, treat ALL other people the way you would like be to treated. That covers a lot of territory.
The other immutable rule was to use the "Magic Words". And I don't mean Abracadabra or Alakazam (although those are awesome words). Nope. When I grew up every kid knew what that meant. The Magic words are actually phrases. There are four of them. "Please", "Thank You", "You Are Welcome" and "I Am Sorry".
Those two rules turned me into a very polite, nice, courteous and considerate person so I know they work. As further evidence I offer to you the knowledge that those same two rules nudged my own kids in that direction as well because they are absolutely lovely human beings.
It's just two rules so it's not hard to remember which makes me curious. What the heck happened? When did this stop being a thing? And why?
This all popped into my mind recently when I was having a conversation with several other people, none of whom I know very well. The topic of the discussion was adapting to working from home. Interestingly (to me) all of them were in favour of it for themselves, but not their spouses (??). I suggested that it merely takes a little communication regarding schedules and offered up that I ask Tim what his telephone schedules looks like on a particular day before I begin doing something particularly noisy like vacuuming. He shares his schedule with me and I work around that. Their response was, and this is a direct quote, "I will be damned the day I let someone else dictate to me when I can clean my own house!" Wow!
Tim has never asked me to do this it was entirely my idea. He appreciates it, but I was being Considerate. The same way I would appreciate someone else be considerate of me.
I've run into such things before, seeing women yelling at a man for opening a door for her. Geez people, Chill! It's called being nice! I hold doors for people all of the time. When I'm doing a big grocery shop, if I notice that the person behind me has only a few items, I almost always offer to let them go ahead of me. Again, just being nice. Sometimes I get a big smile and a very sincere thank you. Other times it's a sniff and a glare. Not sure what that is about, but I still don't regret doing the nice thing.
I'm not even going to call it the "right thing" because I'm sure that people have a wide variety of responses on what exactly is the right thing to do in any given situation, but it absolutely is the Nice Thing.
It's the same way, I always say please and thank you. Always! I said it to my own children from the time they were toddlers. "Could you please hand Mama that book? Thank you!" It not only encouraged them to do as I requested, but it fostered the same response from them.
I think of all the "Magic Words", one of the least used and most important is, "I'm Sorry". The last time the words, "I'm sorry" were directed at me outside of my own friends/family group was again at the grocery store when some 6 or 7 year old kiddo rammed me with his mom's shopping cart. Because I wasn't prepared for it I did make some sort of "ouchie" kind of noise (it hurt!) Just I was pushing the cart gently away from my leg the mom whipped around to see what was going on. There is her kid gearing up to ram me again with a big smile on his face (not joking) and I'm rubbing my leg at the impact spot with one hand and my other hand up in from of me to protect myself. She demands to know "what's going on!" and she is glaring at me. Me! The offended party. Very kindly I explained that it seemed that we had a little collision. She starred me down for a few minutes, then turned to her child and asked if he had "bumped" into this lady, gesturing at me. He, of course denied it. I just shook my head and said, "No major harm done" and I was ready to leave. To my surprise she demanded that he "tell the lady he was sorry". He resisted mightily but in the end he squeezed out one of the most insincerely mumbled "sorry's" I have ever heard. And they walked away.
I'm torn on that one. I think I would prefer to not hear an insincere apology at all. On the other hand, she was doing the right thing, trying to teach him something important.
I have often heard the singsong, "Sorry" thrown out with a giggle or the ridiculous "Sorry, not sorry" and the meangirl, "I'm sooooooo sorrrry" which just drips with sarcasm. Please stop. I'm begging you. "I am sorry" is one of the best and most important phrases you will ever use, but only if it is sincere. A very sincere "I am sorry" says that you are aware that you have made a regrettable error in judgement, that there were no ill intentions behind the offending words or actions and that you will make every effort to never do or say it again. The genuine "I am sorry" is forgiveable. Don't cheapen it.
The other three, Please, Thank you and You are welcome, I hear more often, but sadly, most of the time the are automatic phrases, like saying, "Bless you" when someone sneezes. You aren't actually Blessing them, it's just something you say. Which takes the true meaning out of the words. On the other hand, Please, Thank you and You're welcome said while looking people in the eye, with a sincere smile, those have meaning. They are authentic and it's obvious and it matters.
I am not sure when things changed. I'm not sure why they changed. But it's not for the good. I keep hearing, I don't have time. You don't have time to be considerate? You are too busy for courtesy? Your life is so jam packed every minute of every day that you cannot say please and thank you? Somehow people seem to be able to spend hours a day on their phones texting, playing games, or checking out Pinterest, but they don't have 2 minutes to write a thank you note?
When being courteous is considered either an insult or a sign of weakness, something is seriously wrong. We have become a society of very selfish, self involved people and it's not an improvement. Instead of magic words, I hear a lot of angry words. There does not seem to be much seeking of middle ground or agreeing to disagree. People are very quick to take offense and equally quick to point an accusing finger but sadly very slow to give consideration to others. I'm not seeing much evidence of people thinking before they speak or (thanks to social media) type. And it's not a pretty sight. As a society, we can and should do better. We are not being our best selves.
I'm not absolutely certain how to fix it but I think returning to The Golden Rule and the Magic Words might be a good start.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.