When I get handed my coffee at Starbucks, I say “thank you” to the barista, who hands me my grande Americano. However, it seems in today’s world of texting and Snapchat, that we, the nation that prides itself on being polite, has forgotten how to do just that.
A few years ago I started noticing that almost nobody was saying two simple but powerful words: “please” and “thank you.” You know, the ones your mom used to prompt you with every time she asked you “what do you say?” I found myself holding the door for people at the mall and they would just walk through, head down, not making eye contact. I wouldn’t even get a head nod, the universal signal for “thank you.”
I found myself getting coffee and saw people ahead of me in the line ordering very long, complicated orders, and not only did they not say ”please” and “thank you,” they even got mad at the Barista if they got one modification wrong.
Was it just me, or are we becoming plain impolite?
I thought I would put it to the test. For a week I became overly polite. I became hyper-aware of every time I should have gotten a “please” or a “thank you.” I held every door. I said please and thank you for everything I could. I made small talk with every stranger standing beside me in line. Every time I should have gotten a “please“ or a “thank you,” I made a note of it. At the end of the week, I tallied it all up, and the results were surprising. I only received a “please” or a “thank you” 43% of the time.
By being polite you are showing that you are grateful for something that another person has done for you. Being grateful is the equivalent of being humble, because it is acknowledging that someone else did something that you did not. Being humble is a virtue and being virtuous is a goal every person should strive for.
So being polite is a worthy thing to strive for, but politeness seems to have declined in recent years, and maybe Covid has had something to do with it. When we all had to wear masks and were warned that our very breath could get someone seriously ill, it seems like we stopped wasting it on pleasantries.
When Covid was at it’s peak, we couldn’t even get into an elevator with more than two people, and even that was a tense ride, So re-learning how to hold the elevator door for someone so they can get on with you may take some getting used to. We have trained ourselves to hold our breath around others, so what we do say now tends to be curt and clipped. We will have to re-learn how to add “please” and “thank you” back into our vocabulary.
While it may have contributed to it, politness was on the decline way before Covid hit. The rise of entitlement also contributed to the decline we are seeing in politeness. Millennials, aged 26-41 years old, have long been labeled the entitled generation, and entitlement is the antithesis of humbleness. Therefore it can be difficult to be polite if you feel entitled. If you feel entitled to someone holding the door open for you, generally, you may not feel the need to say “thank you,” because hey, why shouldn’t they be holding that door for you?
Entitlement is basically the belief that you are owed something intrinsically. Millennials grew up with baby boomer parents who spoiled them and were awarded participation trophies just for showing up. It is documented that they consistently ask for higher salaries right out of school more than any other generation. Entitlement would have them believe that you should hold the door open for them just because they are who they are. Why should they say “thank you?” You cannot be humble and entitled at the same time.
So, if you take an entitled generation, throw in a killer virus that spreads through respiratory droplets, it seems you end up with a sharp decline in what Canadian’s value most. Hopefully, with the decline of Covid, and a new generation coming up, things may look different.
With all of us plugged into our devices, are we going to bother looking up from them long enough to say “thank you“ to our barista? May we’ll just be grabbing out coffee in the Metaverse, which may make the point moot. Perhaps our most cherished Canadian value is going the way of the Dodo bird.
© 2023 Tina Pierson