I used to think politeness was just a coverup high- and middle-class folks use to justify our sins. The niceness of manners arguably enables us to avoid the ugly truth about the injustice and oppression enabled by upholding the status quo.

I’m pretty sure I was right. Kind of.

Beth and I have always seen this issue a bit differently, but now that we have a young life to shape I’ve had to think beyond simply agreeing-to-disagree. I still think I’m right (surprise, surprise), but I realize that she is right too – especially now that I better understand her point. She might not say it this way, but she intuitively gets that politeness is a way of respecting another person’s dignity as someone whose assistance we are not entitled to receive. Adding “please” to our requests acknowledges that people aren’t our slaves. They don’t exist to serve us, and therefore they can choose not to if they so desire. Similarly, because we have no inherent claim on anyone’s kindness and love, saying “thank you” when someone helps us out just makes sense.

Some manners are silly to me – even dangerous. (I don’t give a crap how many forks you use, which side of the plate you put them on, etc. And if you care more about forks than sexual immorality or political idolatry, tisk tisk.) But at the very least, “please and thank you” are based on the truth that people don’t exist to meet my needs.

. . .

NOTE: In light of my 30th birthday and in honor of the guys who have all the fun, I’ll be offering thirty reflections in thirty days starting December 19th. Today’s post is #22 (see the so-far list here). The only rule is that I have 250 words to make my point. After that just stop reading. Thanks for making my blog part of your internet experience. 

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