Why do we say Please and Thank You?

May, 2021 Barak Lurie

Today I want to talk about a topic that was near and dear to me in my book Atheism Kills. I ask the question, why do we say “Please” and “Thank you”? Why do we say “How are you?” when we meet each other in the street. When you talk to somebody at the dinner table and you ask to pass the salt, you don’t just say, “Hey Charlie, give me the salt.” You say, “Charlie, would you mind passing the salt?”

You would never say such a thing to Siri or any other computer assistant like that. Instead you would say, “Tell me the weather today.” “Tell me the score of the recent game.”

Likewise with your own dog. You don’t say, “Rover if it would be okay with you, I propose that I throw a stick and you go get it and bring it back to me.” Right? You say, “No. Fetch!” That’s the way it works.

So what’s the difference? Why is it they would say “Please” and “Thank you” and “Would you mind?” I mean after all, if we’re just like the animals and the point is simply to have somebody just do what you want them to do, why not just demand it? Especially if you’re a boss. You could tell your secretary, “Do this” and “Do that”, but you don’t see that. He doesn’t just bark at the secretary, at least if he wants to keep her as an employee.

So what’s the reason why we bristle if somebody were to tell us “Do this” and “Do that” or “Pass the salt” or “Get this letter out and do it now”? Because when we do that, we ignore the person’s notion of free will. We all inherently understand that we are creatures that have free will unlike the animals. Every human is created in God’s image and part of God’s image is that we have the ability to choose. You’re recognizing their ability to say, “No, I don’t want to do that.” You’ve recognized them to be a creature of God with free will. Whatever they did for you is something that they could have chosen not to do. That’s all a very human process.

If you do not have the “Please” and “Thank you” and “You’re welcomes” and “Would you minds” in your life, it’s a very dark and cold existence. We would all agree with that. Now the atheist, not believing in God whatsoever, seems also to demand that everyone speak politely. “It’s just a question of good manners” they’ll say. To which you should say, “Why?”

If we’re just like the animals, if we’re just like Fido, why do we bother? Why do we go that extra step and speak to each other with respect? Think about that next time you say “Please” or “Thank you” or “Would you mind doing something?”