‘On Saying Please’ is an essay that talks about socially important issues that we come across in our daily life. The essay shows how using polite words and phrases like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can change the course of our day. Such words help us in making our passage through life smooth.
In his attempt to draw a distinction between what is etiquette and what is legally binding, Gardiner begins his essay with the example of a lift-man who threw a passenger out of the lift for not saying ‘please.’ While agreeing that courtesy is a desirable characteristic, Gardiner rightly points out that courtesy cannot be legally clamped upon people who are discourteous. The legal system, despite its shortcomings, is reasonable in not considering impoliteness an offence. Impoliteness is what is perceived as impolite and hence is subjective. Hence, punishment is not possible. At the most, we may brand the impolite person ill-mannered. But in the case of physical brutality the law gives us the right to self defence.
The truth also remains that quite often impoliteness is more hurtful than physical abuse. What is worse, it has the cyclical effect. The one who is at the receiving end of rudeness from his superiors, takes it out on his subordinates as he cannot retaliate against his superiors. That is why we should know the importance and value of social practices that promote civility
Gardiner offers the example of a good-natured conductor to show how such people can bring about positivity. Gardiner points out that the example of a genial conductor is not chosen under the assumption that conductors are by and large ill-tempered. Gardiner makes it clear that if here and there we have rude conductors, it is the outcome of their demanding job.
However, the friendly conductor made the author feel pleasantly surprised by buying a ticket for him as the author had forgotten his purse at home. Though the author later found a shilling in his pocket to pay the conductor, the cheerful behaviour of the conductor left him with a pleasant feeling.
On another occasion, it was the conductor who had trodden on the toe of the author. But he was so genuine in his apology that the author forgave him easily. It also became the habit of the author to notice the wellmannered conductor who took on different roles in helping his passengers. He was like a son to the old, father to the children, friend to the young and helper to the handicapped.
The author is especially impressed by the fact that the conductor would get out of the bus, asking the driver to wait for him so as to take the blind across the road or round the comer. Gardiner adds that just as good weather uplifts our spirit, good-natured people too bring about positivity. Their charm cannot be resisted by even unfriendly people. Gardiner concludes the essay by observing that rudeness seemed to be the aftermath of war. He earnestly appeals to his readers to bring back civility to social behaviour.
Thus we see that the essay clearly shows the distinction between what is punishable by law and what is desirable though not punishable by law. While the law is very definite about how individuals should act, it does not have much to say about the issues of courtesy and kindness/politeness to others. The law speaks to individuals who have been wronged, whose rights have been taken away at the hands of another.
Yet, it cannot legislate manners or civility in acting towards one another. The reality is that while it is not a perfect state, this state of law is a reasonable one because it does not enter the realm of emotions. If the law gave in to this level of emotional subjectivity, then individuals would be carrying out acts of violence each time someone demonstrated rudeness to them.