Simple Courtesies

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Courtesy seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur these days. Not long ago, a study found most modern young adults say “No problem” when thanked for a service rendered rather than the proper “You’re welcome.” Apparently, this is due to the fact that most of the younger population wishes to avoid making a “big deal” out of help given to others.

Personally, this author has found it difficult to avoid squirming when someone thanks her as well. Having dropped into the aforementioned habit of replying with “No problem” when “You’re welcome” is more appropriate, she strives to make the latter response her default position once again. Some days it is easier to accomplish this than others, but in her view the effort is worth it.

Why does she bring this up now? During her initial ventures into the original Expanded Universe of Star Wars, specifically Timothy Zahn’s works therein, this writer found herself flinching every time a character said “Thank you” in gratitude for a minor service. Some key passages in The Lord of the Rings elicit a similar reaction. It is a tic that extends to various anime and JRPGs, where the characters will say “Arigato” for both small and great favors.

This reaction is confusing, to say the least. I have no problem saying “Thank you” myself. Nor do I have an issue with being thanked, though as admitted above, I have fallen into the habit of the times. So why does hearing a character speak in gratitude cause me (and, perhaps, other readers/viewers) such discomfort?

Ruminating on this subject recently, this author has come to the conclusion that the general decay in manners makes hearing or reading their consistent use seem out of place to modern audiences. A simple, heartfelt “Thank you” feels like too much; as though it is more than the hearer deserves. While that may or may not be true, the fact is that the speaker’s gratitude ought to have a more respectful response than “No problem.”

“No problem” works among close friends. And time does not allow for more formal speech, while wit can ease the tension in any desperate situation. So no, this author does not see a need to maintain a prescribed set of responses in all circumstances and all times among all people. However, there is something to be said for polite niceties. Because if one does not practice saying “Thank you” for the little things, how can he find the time or ability to express his gratitude for the big things?

Yes, it can become a formulaic custom, said more because it is expected than because it is actually meant by the speaker. But there is something good to be said for form, as there may be something good to say of learning by rote. Having a fixed base of knowledge can be and often is useful; mathematical equations, for instance, require a specific, repeatable form. Without that unchanging foundation, arithmetic becomes an exercise in futility.

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Just so, inculcating a firm appreciation for good manners in a society makes it possible to know what one ought to say when the time arrives, even if they must struggle to do so. In the Old West, when the frontier was full of danger and sudden death, men practiced the polite niceties. They may have said “Much obliged” in place of “Thank you,” but they made certain to adhere to a specific code of courtesy in both speech and action. This was because it was not just their guns that tamed the land, but the civilization they brought with them.

And civilization demands manners. It insists on recognizing the rights of both the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the wise and the fool as fellow human beings inherently worthy of respect since they are made in the image and likeness of God. “Whatever you did for these, the least of my brethren, you did unto Me.” To say “Thank you” or “Much obliged” is to show gratitude to another for a service rendered – usually at some expense to the second party. This expenditure deserves to be recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated by the receiver. Saying “Thank you,” even a little thoughtlessly or without feeling, means the speaker knows what to say when he is thinking and feeling.

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On this day when Americans traditionally give thanks, let us remember the simple courtesies. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “How are you?” “I am well.” “Pass the salt, please.” “You may use my fork.” And so on and so forth.

Yes, it might feel awkward at first. Perhaps it will seem stiff and formal. It may even take effort to remember to say or do it. So what? Will the results not be worth these minor discomforts? How often do men have the chance to rebuild civilization one verbal brick at a time?

Thank you for your time, readers. Have a Happy Thanksgiving – not only today, but in all the days to come. May God bless you, and may He bless the United States of America.

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