Getting the Right Words in the Right Place
Although I grew up in a family of rough and rowdy boys, it was also a family that required us to learn appropriate words associated with Southern niceties. Sometimes they were referred to as “the magic words” and there was a cluster of them that we were not only required to learn but to use and beyond that we were required to use them sincerely. They were words like yes sir and no sir, yes ma’am, and no ma’am, please, thank you, and an occasional, I’m sorry. I thought that was the way all families acted and the way they taught their children. I was late into my elementary school years when I heard the first child saying yeah and naw to a teacher or their parents. It made a profound impact on me the day that one of my new friends who had moved into our Mississippi world from another state told me that my parents had taught me wrong when at the table we would ask, “Pass the potatoes, please.” He said that his father told him never to do that; that he was not going to raise his kids sitting at the table, begging somebody for their food. I was shocked, for then and even now, I did not get it.
I never felt like I was begging whether I was at my family’s table or at summer camp. Please for me seemed to replace the sharp edge of a command with the gentle edge of a request. I have since learned that it’s probably more of a Southern thing than it is a national or worldwide experience, but, be that as it may, I still believe it is right and no one loses by being kind. Now with all that said, I am certainly aware of the fact that our world has taken on the words of harshness rather than gentleness or kindness, as opposed to being nice and caring with each other and using language of respect and appreciation. Screaming and yelling at one another and using demeaning, disparaging, degrading vile and vulgar terms have become the accepted language of the day.
The totality of our Christian life, whether it is in our sight or our speech, our actions or our reactions, all should be measured by the standard of Jesus. The Scripture says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). So whatever it is we are saying and the manner with which we say it, is not a reflection of the moment or just a reflection of what we think about someone else. It is a reflection of what resides in our hearts and when we keep our hearts right the rest of us will get in line. It is interesting to watch that even when we get our words in the wrong place, when our heart is in the right place it’s understood. I’m thankful that my grandchildren are learning some of the proper speech in a polite society although they may not always get the words in the right place.
Recently, we were in a crowd of people most of whom we didn’t know. My almost four-year-old grandson had a Frisbee that he was anxious to play with. This wide-eyed little kid with reckless abandon reared back and threw the Frisbee somewhat in my direction but it went off course and hit a gentleman standing a couple of feet away from me. As it fell harmlessly to the ground I looked at my grandson and said, “What do you say?” He looked the man straight in the eye and said, “Thank you!” and got his Frisbee and ran off. I looked at the guy and apologized. He chuckled and said, “That’s fine,” and walked away. At least it was an effort. Just a quick reminder that the magic words are not designed for preschoolers though they need to learn them. These words are given to us in a lifelong assignment and if by chance they have fallen out of your daily use, pick them up, dust them off and commit today to use them frequently with everyone you run into.
You may find that the words bless you and I can assure you they will bless others. Thank you.