Magic Words

“Please” and “thank you” are indeed the magic words; they have all but vanished in inexplicable fashion from the face of the earth. All too frequently, we are besieged by people whose needs apparently supersede our own and, more notably, the concept of common courtesy. This chronic insolence has become such an epidemic that whenever someone does find the courage to resurrect some semblance of propriety and utters a “please” or heaven forbid a “thank you,” it becomes an
event of awe inspiring proportions.

The Golden Rule and all of the facets germane to this antiquated philosophy
seems to have been eradicated by a curious sense of entitlement that far too many people today possess. The “me” generation, with spokespeople such as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, has spawned a legion of individuals who truly believe that their existence lies at the center of the universe. Nobody else seems to matter. I often muse (perhaps lament is a better word) over the disparity between this generation and that of my parents’ with regard to the precepts by which people govern their lives. “Do unto others” was the mantra that was spoken most often in my house when I was growing up. It was, perhaps, the most important rule in the house. My sister and I accepted it as a truism, and came to understand that any transgressions would not be tolerated.

This unfortunate phenomenon can be observed every day in the most rudimentary settings. Purchasing groceries from the supermarket, for instance, has become tantamount to military maneuvers that would even make the most skilled army tactician blush. Negotiating the aisles of your local food store without sustaining at least one “can you move out of the way” or at best derisive glare is certainly unusual. It’s enough to send you running for your therapist in an
unbridled fit of self loathing. And nothing is as harrowing as the check out
line. I have opted for the “self check out” recently as it limits the chance of any of these odious exchanges with others. But on occasion, when my cart is just too full of items to clog up the natural flow of the self-check stations, I am forced to roll up my sleeves and tough it out. It aint pretty. Between the regular express line infiltrator who indignantly feigns ignorance of the item
limitation and the line dodger who jockeys back and forth in an obstreperous fit of cart rage until he procures the most expedient avenue, one is lucky to escape the experience unscathed. There is obviously no place for manners here.

On one occasion not too long ago, I allowed an elderly woman to take my place in line, only to become the victim of mockery and ridicule by the impatient crowd on patrons waiting behind me. I cost them some valuable minutes and they were having none of it. I guess all is fair in love and groceries.

In any public establishment you frequent, from delicatessens to convenience stores, the song of the boorish can be heard. “Give me, "let me have” and “I want”are commands that have rendered the more conventional "may I please have” obsolete. It is indeed unfortunate, but the prevalence of such acerbic sentiments has desensitized us; we are no longer phased by them. But not too long ago, even I was astonished by the effrontery of a woman who was waiting on line inside a funeral home to pay her respects. After huffing and puffing and complaining about how long it was taking for the line to advance, her bluster turned more vocal as she announced for all to hear that she was “not going to wait any longer.” Despite the somber nature of the occasion, she proceeded to push past the others and cut the line, creating an unseemly disturbance and ultimately undermining the solemnity of the service. She would not be denied. In her mind, arriving at her nail appointment in a timely fashion precluded the concepts of respect and humanity.

The most frightening aspect of all is that the children of these offenders will, undeniably, repeat the same egregious behaviors that they have observed time and again. It has already begun. Young folks today possess an arrogance and swagger that, by its very nature, impugns authority. They are boastful, uninhibited and obnoxious. These first generation philistines have imbued their children with a truly distorted sense of self worth, rendering these young folks incapable of even conceptualizing another's feelings. In their minds, it is their duty to draw attention to themselves, even if it comes at the expense of others.

So how do we arrest this wave of impertinence? How do we revitalize “please” and “thank you” and prevent “excuse me” and “I'm sorry” from meeting a similar fate? My cynicism will nor permit me to entertain, even for a second, that a blog of this nature is a panacea for this moral vacuity. But I am a little hopeful that all is not lost.

On a recent trip to the shopping mall, my wife inadvertently placed her handbag on a display counter while she looked through a rack of blouses. Minutes later she left the counter without even realizing what she had done. A little girl, about eight years old, witnessed the whole scene. I learned later that she told her father and implored him to “find the lady who lost her bag.” Fifteen minutes later, my wife had her bag back. And my hope, albeit dim, was restored. When we thanked the little girl for her kindness and integrity, both she and her father just smiled. The he spoke. “My daughter was taught to help others,” explained the dad.

Those of us who still extol the virtue of proper behavior must refuse to
acquiesce to the deluge of rudeness that plagues our world. The battle is all we
have left. For those of us who remain staunch advocates of the “Golden Rule,” we need to pledge to make a concerted effort to stem the tide of insolence. And for those who are a little less combative and far more quixotic, perhaps the time has come to snap our fingers and click our heels while uttering some magical incantation in order to make these phantom words reappear.
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Published on January 07, 2013 04:17 Tags: frank-nappi
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