Parents, Teachers, and the “Universal Parent” Can Save the World with “Please” and “Thank You” by Carew Papritz, author, The Legacy Letters

Do you remember the “Universal Parent” when you were growing up?

The universal parent was everywhere.  They were your neighbor’s mom and your 3rd grade teacher.  They were your dentist and your little league coach.  Say one swear word and it was in your parent’s ears before you’d even finish saying it.  The greatest tool in the universal parent toolbox was the universal parent “hot line” which, of course, went directly to your parents.  Even the slightest hint of using the hot line could correct any future infractions for days, weeks, and sometimes years to come.

Politeness was the order of the day. You weren’t just expected to be polite—you were polite.  Everything came with a please and a thank you.  If not, the universal parent could and would correct you on the spot.  Civility was a responsibility that the universal parent took seriously, and teaching you as kid, to be polite, was without question.

Now these times are a changing.  We lament the loss of civility and politeness in the world, especially with our children.  But nobody wants to be the universal parent anymore.  No one wants the responsibility.  Yet, we should heed the words of a childhood saying:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.  For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.  For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.  For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

No matter how insignificant a please or thank you may seem, the loss of such simple civility can and does have bigger and long-term consequences for us all.  “For the want of thank you . . . the kingdom was lost.”

So now what do we do?

The other day, while eating out for breakfast, our son thanked the waitress for bringing him a glass of water.  I was mortified at her response—she praised him over and over again throughout the meal for being such a polite boy.  And what parent doesn’t love to hear that your little angel is actually . . . a little angel.

Yet my response was like that of watching someone desperately gulp down a canteen of cold water while having been in the desert for too long. Somehow, we have wandered into a desert of incivility, where politeness is so rare it is looked upon as some momentary miracle of life-saving kindness.

This incivility—I could easily blame the current state of politics with its unending finger pointing, tirades, and rants.  Or I could point at the internet with its anonymous name calling, trolling, and bullying.  Or video games, or TV & the media, or even, dare I say, us parents . . . take your pick.  But the journey into this desert has been a long journey.  Perhaps for the last 30 years.  And more than likely it’s an insidious combination of all the above that has led to our curious state of incivility and impoliteness in today’s world.

What has happened?  The Golden Rule has been inverted, upturned, and diverted.  Instead of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” now it becomes “Don’t do anything” or “Do to others before they do it to you.”  The Golden Rule is a give rather than a take.  It is a selflessness to do what is right for others rather than a selfishness to do what is right only for yourself.

Civility is nice.  It’s relaxing.  It’s comforting. It’s a language we all understand and we all love when someone is nice to us.  Silly as it sounds, nice is still nice.  And being polite is still . . . being nice.

Two of the most powerful and intertwined cornerstones of civility are the use of “Please” and “Thank You.” They are a form of humility, kindness, empathy, and niceness all rolled into the simplest of phrases.

If our children are our future, as we as parents and teachers like to say, I sure would like them to be nice to me . . . and to everyone else.  And I believe that teaching them how to say “please” and “thank you” with sincerity and genuineness is how to save civilization.

But first and foremost, we must all practice what we preach.   If it’s a priority to us, then it’s a priority to our children.  And when I mean “our” children, I mean all children, not just ours.  The beauty of “Please” and “Thank You” is that it is a constant exercise in politeness.  It’s almost like a kindness workout.  The more you do it, the more kind you become.

Yes, with our kids, we must remind them to say “Please” and “Thank You” one million—or maybe two million times—before it sticks in their brains.  Yet when a simple and beautiful “Please” or “Thank You” is uttered out of the mouth of your babe, you will know that angels do exist and that the world is being saved one “Please” and “Thank You” at a time.


Carew Papritz, also known as The Cowboy Philosopher, is the author of the multi-award winning book The Legacy Letters. Though fictional, The Legacy Letters has won acclaim as a life lessons book for all generations, gaining the distinction of being the only book in publishing history to win awards in both fiction and non-fiction categories. He inspires kids and adults to rediscover the joy of reading through his book signings, his “I Love to Read” series on YouTube, and his annual literacy-driven charity event, “The Great Book Balloon Launch.” Papritz has donated a large portion of the book proceeds to various charities including Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Seattle Children’s Hospital, Reading is Fundamental, and the Military Mama’s Network.