Say Please, Say Thank You

Say Please, Say Thank You

by Donald Mccullough


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Say Please, Say Thank You by Donald Mccullough

"This rousing, witty guide could help make the world a nicer, more civilized, more humane place."—Publishers Weekly In a world where rudeness is the norm and acts of kindness often make people more suspicious than grateful, who hasn't yearned for a return to good old-fashioned courtesy? In this gentle, inspiring book, Donald McCullough reminds us of the power that we have to make the world a better place—simply by being polite. He helps us spot opportunities to treat others with respect—not because they have "earned it," but because they deserve it as fellow human beings. From saying please and thank you, to keeping a secret, to picking up the check at dinner, it's the little decisions in life that make the big difference—helping us to grow more gracious, and to give, and receive, life's simple but essential gifts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399525384
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/01/1999
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,267,373
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Donald W. McCullough has pastored congregations in Solana Beach, California, and Seattle and served as president of the San Francisco Theological Seminary and as professor of theology and preaching. His books include The Trivialization of God and Waking from the American Dream.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Say Please

Respecting the freedom of Others

"Give me candy, Mommy."

    "What do you say?"

    "Thank you."

    "No, before that ..."

    "Pees, Mommy, pees."

    Most of us have been in a conversation like this, and many of us have been on both sides of it. We were taught to say please, and we teach our children to do the same. It's in the core curriculum of Courtesy 101; it's as rudimentary to politeness as the alphabet is to reading. Even if we sometimes neglect the word because we're too irritated or too busy or think we're too important, we know we should preface a request with it. The most imperious jerk, barking out orders like a royal pain in the backside has, I suspect, a little voice within that sounds a lot like his mother asking, "Didn't you forget to say something?"

    Why is this word so important? Simply put, it acknowledges the freedom of others. If you say to your spouse, "Get me a cup of coffee," you deserve a night on the sofa, if not a session with the marriage counselor; your spouse is not a slave, not an object of your control. But if you say, "Would you please get me a cup of coffee?" you will likely get coffee and perhaps even more. The word "please" changes the tone completely. It's really, an abbreviated way of saying, "If you please, if it gives you pleasure, get me a cup of coffee." Don't even think about going to the kitchen, in other words, unless you want to do this for me.

    Personal freedom is part of the joy and responsibility of being human. The extent of freedom varies, of course, depending on the context: we have obligations to others and we have commitments to moral and spiritual and national laws. But no matter how constricted our choices might seem in a given circumstance, we still have something within that resists being captive. Even prisoners retain a freedom of spirit, as so clearly seen in reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters from a Nazi prison or Nelson Mandela's autobiographical account of life in a South African jail.

    This freedom creates both joy and misery. When used wisely—selecting the right Cabernet, say, or marrying the right person—it leads to delight. When used unwisely—getting drunk with the Cabernet or abusing your spouse—it leads to suffering. But no matter how we use freedom, whether for good or for ill, it's part of the dignity of being human, and therefore something we ought to acknowledge in our relationships. Saying "please" erects a little castle to protect the inherent royalty of other persons.

    When I don't say "please," I'm not intending to be a dictator, but that's essentially the result; I might as well strut around with self-congratulatory medals pinned to my chest, expecting everyone to salute when I get near. To be sure, I always have excuses to explain my behavior, at least to my mind: I'm in a hurry and need to get things done; I'm really bushed; I'm under a lot of stress. But no matter how much cheap cologne you spread over a stinky body, you still have a stinky body. The truth is, if I can't take half a second to say "please," I don't deserve to have anyone do anything for me, except perhaps have a judge lock me up for reckless use of a dangerous ego.

    The problem is that very freedom we were just thinking about: I enjoy my freedom and I like to exercise it at all times—even over other people. I like to be in control; I like to be in the driver's seat, or I'm a little edgy, ramming my foot through the floor board and having to restrain myself from grabbing the steering wheel. (I'm speaking metaphorically, but my family would tell you this is also literally true. The only time I was completely willing to have someone else drive was when I had to get to the hospital because of a kidney stone kicking the living daylights out of my urethra and I thought I was going to die anyway. But that's another story.) It's not that I don't trust other people; I simply trust myself more.

    You know what's scary about this? I'm beginning to sound like G. Gordon Liddy. Because of patriotic service rendered at Watergate he was sent to prison, and this apparently gave him time to think about what was important in life. So after being released, he said, "I have found within myself all I need and all I ever shall need. I am a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy. I have never doubted me."

    Well, I have doubted myself and I'm not planning any political burglaries, but I have to confess I prefer being in charge. I'm spilling my guts about this because I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this compulsion to control. I'm not pointing any fingers, but is anyone reading this who hasn't, at one time or another, wanted to guarantee the outcome of a situation,' who has wanted to ensure another person's response? Let's admit it: we've all wanted to play God. We haven't necessarily wanted to be God (too much responsibility and too little respect nowadays); but we have wanted to assume God's role in certain instances. Not more than once or twice a day maybe, but enough to complicate life for those around us, who, it should be pointed out, want the same thing, and all these conflicted egos slugging it out is one good reason why the evening news should be followed with a Mylanta chaser.

    If I order my secretary to get a folder without the courtesy of a "please," I chip away a little piece of her freedom, and she resents it and, being in a foul mood, orders her husband to clean up the kitchen, and he knows he shouldn't be treated like this and reacts by barking a command at one of his employees ... and on it goes, until we've all been demeaned.

    The Golden Rule tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Because this is in the form of an imperative, We might have the wrong impression: we might imagine we can choose to put this rule into effect or not, depending on whether we obey it. Actually, it's closer to the Tall Buildings Rule—step off the top of a tall building and you will be squished on the sidewalk. We're talking law here, a statement of what happens in the universe of relationships. Whatever you do unto others they will do back to you. Call it the Law of Reciprocal Action.

    I know: sometimes the law is broken. Thank God the chain of events gets interrupted when someone turns the other cheek and chooses not to see something, or having seen it chooses to forget it, or not able to forget it chooses to forgive it. Grace happens, and when you receive it, you know it's what makes life worth living. But grace always comes as a gift not as law. You can't count on it. The only grace you can trust is God's, but as for grace from others, don't bet your pension on its inevitability. Act as though the Law will be operative, because it probably will.

    Treat one another with a lack of respect, and that lack of respect will spread, not only back to you but toward others. Treat one another with the dignity befitting human beings, and that dignity will in turn multiply. Attitudes and actions are as infectious as a mean virus.

    I recently came across a story about Billy Martin, the irrepressible baseball manager and player. Back in the days when he and Mickey Mantle were playing for the New York Yankees, they wanted to go hunting during the off-season. Mickey had a friend down in Texas where he was allowed to hunt, so he drove Billy out to the ranch.

    When they arrived, Mickey suggested that Billy stay in the truck while he went into the ranch house to check with the owner. Mickey was given immediate approval. But the owner asked a favor: his mule was going blind and he didn't have the heart to kill it. The rancher wondered if Mickey would do it for him. Mickey agreed and saw an opportunity to play a joke on Billy.

    He sulked back to the truck, got in, and slammed the door. Billy asked what was wrong. Mantle replied that the rancher wouldn't let them hunt. He said, "In fact, I'm so mad that I'm going over to that barn and shoot one of his mules." Martin protested that he couldn't do that. But Mantle was determined. "Just watch me. He wouldn't let me hunt, and I'll show him!" Mantle marched over to the barn, went inside, and shot the mule.

    When he came out he was shocked to see Billy Martin standing near the barn with a smoking rifle, shouting, "That no good son of a gun; I just shot two of his cows."

    The contagion of attitudes and actions. But thank God it works in reverse, too. In the Greek myth, Pygmalion sculpted a statue of a beautiful woman and fell in love with it. Through the power of his love and expectations he brought the statue to life. Eliza Doolittle becomes My Fair Lady. Aldonza becomes Dulcinea. Our stories reflect a truth about human relationships: we can fan the hidden spark of goodness in another person until it bursts into flame. A boy grows into a man of character through a mother's undying love; a girl blossoms into a woman of great achievement through the nurturing imagination of a lover; a fumbling, bumbling employee becomes a department head through the unflagging confidence of a boss.

    So we treat one another with courtesy, with respect, because others always carry within themselves more than meets the eye. What's at the core of their being, of course, is humanity, a great mystery theologians and philosophers and psychologists struggle to define, but never will. Some mysteries will not surrender to the control of explanation; some mysteries can only be received on their own terms. "Mystery withers at the touch of force," Diogenes Allen has written. "This is a law, a truth that governs us as firmly as any law we have met so far, and as firmly as exists in all the permutations of matter and energy. When we treat other people as objects subordinate to our goals, their mystery has no effect on us. The larger mystery into which genuine personal encounter can lead us never becomes open to us."

    And thus, to protect the mystery, we don't run roughshod over the freedom of others, but we pause for a split second to say "please," to create a buffer zone that acknowledges the dignity of being human.

Table of Contents

Mind Your Manner
Treating People with Respect1
1. Say Please
Respecting the Freedom of Others10
2. Say Thank You
Acknowledging Dependence on Others17
3. Tell White Lies (Occasionally)
Protecting from Unnecessary Hurt24
4. Don't Let Your Fingers Do the Talking
Curbing the Violence Within30
5. Don't Show Up at the Wedding in a Baseball Cap
Showing Respect with What You Wear37
6. Don't Be Late
Guarding the Time of Others45
7. Repondez, S'il Vous Plait
Being Considerate of Others' Plans50
8. Wait Until Everyone Is Served Before You Pick Up a Fork
Observing the Social Significance of Meals56
9. Keep Your Feet Off the Coffee Table
Valuing the Property of Others63
10. Keep Your Bumper Off My Tailpipe
Waiting Your Turn69
11. Hold Your Wind
Trying Not to Offend with Bodily Grossness75
12. Pay What You Owe
Rendering Others Their Due80
13. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Acknowledging Sexual Boundaries85
14. Be Quiet in Church
Cultivating a Sense of Reverence91
15. Don't Wear Red to a Chinese Funeral
Honoring Our Differences97
16. Apologize When You've Blown It
Accepting Responsibility for Your Failures106
17. Use Nice Stationery
Attending to the Forms of Communication114
18. Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears
Learning to Be a Good Listener121
19. Be First to Reach for the Tab
Developing a Generous Spirit129
20. Leave a Tip Worth Working For
Noticing Those Who Serve137
21. Go Home Before Your Host Falls Asleep
Not Abusing the Gift of Hospitality145
22. Hang Up the Phone During Dinner and at Bedtime
Avoiding Unnecessary Intrusions152
23. Kneel Down to Speak with Children
Meeting Others at Their Own Level160
24. Respect Your Elders
Honoring Those Who Nurture and Lead168
25. Watch What You Say
Understanding the Power of Words176
26. Don't Leave a Messy Campsite
Cleaning Up After Yourself184
27. Keep a Secret
Earning the Trust of Others191
28. Don't Let Your Dog Romance My Leg
Remembering Not Everyone Shares Your Interests199
29. Stop Drinking While You Can Still Remember Your Mother's Maiden Name
Bestowing the Benefits of Moderation207
30. Stay Out of the Bay Until You Know the Difference Between a Starboard and a Port Tack
Learning and Obeying the Rules of the Road216
31. Don't Tell Jokes at the Expense of Others
Forbearing Humor that Demeans225
32. Keep Card Companies in Business
Remembering Milestones235
33. Tell Your Buddy His Fly Is Open
Speaking the Truth in Love244
34. Pretend You Don't Notice When Your Dinner Partner Drools
Guarding the Dignity of Others253
35. Wave to Motor Boaters
Strengthening the Bonds of Community260
36. Once in a While. Be a Slob
Knowing When to Break the Rules269

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