The words “please” and “thank you” are great equalizers. When we use them, we’re saying to another person,
“I am asking you to do something as a favor to me, and I am grateful for your willingness to do it.”
The understanding is that we, in another situation, will do the same for them.
In our society, we are taught — often without words — that some people do not need to use please and thank you because Who they are, and What they ask, is so much greater than the relationship between them and other people. The military comes immediately to mind, and on its heels, the defense of its practices:
“Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if commanding officers had to say please and thank you, all the time, to their subordinates? They require instant obedience to their commands.”
It’s a valid thought, but another thought is,
“Can you imagine how bad it is for people to have the illusion that they are greater, grander, and more important than other people, and thereby do not need to behave with courtesy?”
But let’s say that it’s appropriate, within the military, to dispense with democratic politeness. The problem comes when we adopt a military attitude throughout our society: corporations, schoolrooms, churches, even families — any place with an artificial hierarchy is in danger of creating a caste system, one in which the demands of those who call themselves leaders are expected to be acceded to by those deemed followers.
Sadly, many good people who want to be good parents have been taught — by certain charlatans who call themselves Christian — that they are the general of the family (man first, woman second), and the privates, the children, need to snap to attention, instantly obey, and say “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Ma’am.” One of the places military thinking definitely does not belong is within the home. Rather, the family setting is the place to learn how to treat one another well and kindly, so that when we go out “into the world” — the office, the grocery store, the sidewalks — we act toward others the way we want others to act toward us.
The artwork, Stillness, reminds us of who we are on this planet. Two women — one sitting, one standing — look out into the vastness of the Grand Canyon, marveling at their place in the world. They are not leaders, magnates, generals, royalty, celebrities — they are people, sisters on a planet, part of a family of human beings who get along best when we don’t consider one better than the other, privileged to demand as opposed to ask.
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