Monthly Blog - June 2017

The Four Legs of the Table: How We Got “Please” and Why It’s Important

Ready, Set... Time to Say Please and Thank You Again.

Put Your Best Foot Forward
How Good Manners Enhance your professional and personal life.

“If you are more fortunate than others,
it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”

How We Got “Please” and Why It’s Important

Over the past six months, this blog has discussed information formulating the symbolic legs of the table.

The four legs of the table symbolize the four principles of good manners.

The four legs are Trust, Respect, Love and Honor. It takes all four legs of the table to live a principled, well-mannered life. If one of the “legs” is missing or lacking, then our persona will be off-balance, just as a four-legged table with only three legs would be unbalanced.

Last month, we discussed the surface of our symbolic table.
The surface of the table represents the one force driving all of human behavior: desire.
This powerful force called desire is a human trait that our brain constantly assimilates, no matter our position in life. We have a tendency to always desire more or better or different. The Four Parts of Desire: Acquisitiveness, Rivalry, Vanity and Love of Power.

The human condition is imperfect and complex.

This month, let us explore the How We Got “Please” and Why It’s Important.

Our Civilized Life

There are those among us who would argue that our society has become less civilized and less well-mannered. The world seems to be scary sometimes, and witnessing atrocities on the 24-hour news channel could make some of us retreat into our homes and never want to venture out.

But, as human beings, we are hard-wired to be a part of something else outside of our nuclear family. It may be a church or synagogue, or a class you take, or a family reunion or your workplace. The verbal and nonverbal feedback we receive from others, helps us to know ourselves better. Whether we realize it or not, we are in constant learning mode, taking in the sights and sounds of the world around us.

Few among us has not been touched by pain or trauma. Trauma has a tendency to rattle us and quiets our sensitivity and empathy towards others. Often, we lash out at others when feeling a deep, private pain.

All of us are dealing with a difficult issue in life that others may not know about. Because of this, we all need to offer kindness when interacting with others. We are all living in a world that none of us completely understand.

A bit of forgiveness and mercy will help to heal us as we face a big, fat mess of ourselves: our arrogance, greed, poverty, prejudice, illness.

And part of the forgiveness and mercy is using the word “please” with sincerity.

How did this common courtesy of saying “please” originate?

What Kind of Face is “Please”?

An American poet and children’s writer Ruth Krause offered this: “A good thing to think about is what kind of face to make when you say ‘please’. That coat your mother gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say ‘thank you’”.

One of our most common cultural habits of civility is saying “please”. To do so is akin to courtesy and basic morality. We tend to become offended if people make a demand of us without saying “please”. We constantly are reminding children to say the word, and our ministers and teachers remind us to say “please”.

We often assume that the habit is universally known, but it is not so. Like many of our everyday courtesies, it is really a kind of democratization of what was known earlier as a habit from feudal times: the law of the land during feudal times was to treat absolutely everyone the way we used to treat a lord or hierarchical aristocrat.

Imagine we step onto a crowded bus. We look around for a seat, while thinking, “please, someone help out…”. A fellow passenger makes eye contact, then proceeds to move her bag in order to make room for you. We smile, nod, or make another grateful gesture of acknowledgement. We might even say, “Thank you.”

Gestures such as this are at the common core of our humanity…to care for one another, to show mercy, even if they are strangers. It shows the humanness and the humaneness of our being, and we feel genuine gratitude towards the person, though we may never see them again.

What kind of face do you make when you say “Please”?

The Etymology of “Please”

The English “please” is short for “if you please”. “If it pleases you to do this”—is the same in most European languages.

In French, si il vous plait; Spanish por favor. Literally, the meaning is “you are under no obligation to do this.”

Pass the green beans. Please.

There is a social obligation that is nearly impossible to ignore when one is faced with saying “please” or not. Etiquette consists mostly of situations where we have exchanges with others that more or less convince those on the receiving end of our civility or lack thereof.

There is a fine line between politeness and bossiness.

Consider the supervisor who, in a stern voice, says, “Go!”.

Contrast this with the supervisor who, in a stern voice, says, “Please, let’s go!”.

With all of the difficult tasks we face in our daily lives, would not a kind face saying “please” help us feel better along the way?

Manners must adorn knowledge and smooth its way through the world. Like a great rough diamond, it may do very well in a closet by way of curiosity, and also for its intrinsic value.
– Lord Chesterfield.

It is just nicer to say “please”.

Can we start today? Please?

Ready, Set…time to say please and thank you again.

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Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.

COMING NEXT: The Four Things Well-Mannered People Do.