As a parent, there are a lot of things that are important to me. Faith, morals, discernment, proactivity, and so much more rank high on the list of “things my kids should know”. But as important as all of these things are, something that likely ranks within the top three is manners. It is something that your Tata drilled into your Nino’s and my head, and something I have been working on being second nature for you.
Up until today, I’ve considered it a huge success. We’ve had people say that you’re the most polite three year old they’ve ever met. One of your brother’s first words was “tankoo” (thank you). And to this day, you regularly use phrases like “excuse me”, “thank you”, “may I”, and “please”.
But today, your mom told me a story. A story that showed a fault in my logic, a chink in the armor of well mannered children. Mommy served you a snack of an apple. Once the plate was slid in front of you, you decided that a farm grown golden delicious apple, sliced and cored and placed in front of you, was not what you wanted. Nay, the desire of your palate at that moment was animal crackers, and you made it clear that the apple was a sub-par choice.
You stated, “I don’t want an apple, I want animal crackers.”
And your mother responded, “Sorry, sweetie, we’re having an apple for snack.”
To which you replied, “Can I please have animal crackers?”
Your mom’s a pro at this, “I love it when you’re polite, Audrey Rae, but we’re still having apple.”
And then you replied with what has brought this letter to its creation. “But I said please! It’s the magic word that means I get what I want!”
My Raesin, these words, “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “May I”, they aren’t just words. They don’t have magical, manipulative properties. They’re not contractual and certainly not used so that the speaker can be guaranteed their desires. The extent that we have lost the true purpose of these words has hit me harder than I thought it would. I sat and thought for a while about how you could have come to this conclusion, but the more I thought about it, it was a wonder that I ever thought you could have come to any other conclusion. And I certainly don’t think I’m alone in this parenting tactic. Parents everywhere tell their children to say “please” and “thank you” without every really describing why we say them to any satisfactory degree. We just tell you that you need to say “please” and then you get what you’re asking for, as if “please” were a psychological trigger of some sort.
These words may not have any supernatural properties, but I can tell you one thing: they have power.
This isn’t the power that you thought they had today, it isn’t even a power over the one receiving the words. These words are meant to have a power over the speaker. An internal effect that so many have completely skipped out on because they were raised (like I have been raising you) to say these things because…well, just because you do. No real reasoning, it’s just “polite”.
Gosh, as I’m writing, I’m wondering if we’ve even lost the purpose behind why we’re polite.
My little girl, these words should convey the attitude of the speaker. When you say “please” you’re not dropping the figurative microphone, knowing you have just won the battle, you are telling the listener “I understand this takes effort from you, and that you are going out of your way to help me, so I am asking you to do this favor for me.” When you use that word, it should carry that message. One of appreciation for even considering what you’re asking, one of understanding that refusal is a valid option.
“Thank you” isn’t just a response. It should not be mechanical, it should be genuine. It should communicate authentic appreciation for the person that has done something for you. It should convey recognition of effort. It sounds so obvious but so many people miss it: when you say “thank you” you should actually be thankful.
I could go on about the power of all words and how I honestly believe that words are the most powerful thing that nearly every human is naturally given, but I’ll save that for another letter. Today, I want to tell you this: I am changing the way I approach teaching you manners. I don’t just think it’s a “good idea” to do so, I think you and your siblings need to know the message behind these words. I think it’s vital that you learn to truly appreciate what others do for you, no matter how small, and use the correct words to convey them. “I am, admittedly, interrupting what you’re doing, and I recognize it’s inconvenient”, excuse me. “I honestly would like to have your permission, if you’ll give it”, may I? It’s not just important for the listener, but it’s essential that you have a heart that speaks the message behind these phrases.
Be polite, Audrey Rae, don’t just speak words.
1 Corinthians 1:4
Christian, husband, father, and pastor. Also a proud and dedicated nerd. One of the dads at TheDadLetters.com and author of TheLivesIHaveLived.wordpress.com.