I didn’t immediately recognize the neat and nicely dressed lady in the community room of the nursing home. She called me by name so I had to ask her for her name.
As soon as she told me, I was embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized her. I had known her and her husband pretty much my whole life and the couple had been close friends with my parents.
She told me she always read my column every week and said it meant more to her because she knew my family. I thanked her for reading in the very simple and straight-forward manner I usually use. The thank-you drew an immediate reply from her.
“I’ve always thought you needed to write about saying ‘I love you,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please.’”
She said people just don’t use those words like they used to or should. I agreed with her and said I would give it some thought. I jotted it down in the little notebook I carry as soon as I got to the car. I’ve thought about it off and on since my conversation.
I was raised to use those words regularly and I’ve always tried to use them at any time, which they apply. With my wife, my family, my co-workers, customers and the wait staff at restaurants I always try to request things with please and acknowledge a response, good deed or praise with a heart-felt thank-you. If I have a failing here it is probably those closest to me that suffer my lack of politeness.
“I love you” is a little tougher. I offer it up to my wife several times a day. When I kiss her goodbye every morning when we go to bed at night and anytime I get close enough to hold her hand. Others in my life don’t get the “I love yous” as much and some really deserve them.
People of my generation and older learned early to use these golden words regularly and we knew that people expected it from us. Maybe it was the fact that it became an expectation that caused these courtesies to fall out of favor.
Even if it becomes an automatic response to a situation I think use keeps us civil and reminds the other person we care. I think the art is in social interaction these days is in slowing down long enough to make sure the person your employing those phrases on knows you really mean them.
If you’re using I love you, do you add the kiss or the hug? If you’re thanking someone, do you include a warm handshake or pat on the back? When we ask for something with a “please” do we explain how much honoring the request will mean?
In this weekend of thanksgiving it’s good to remind ourselves that our expressions of appreciation and courtesy may well be the only thing the person we’re interacting with has to be thankful for that day.