Please, thank you, and cover your mouth—3 lessons that can change the world
Rev. Susan Sparks
September 10, 2020
My parents taught me many lessons in this life. Some tough, some excruciating, and some just as simple as can be. Yet, it’s those simple lessons that can change the world.
Like saying, “Please.” The simple act of asking for things in a kind way can completely change the dynamics of any conversation. This is true for everything from relationships to business negotiations and international diplomacy.
Or saying, “Thank you.” Gratitude goes a long way in establishing trust and rapport. It also can alter our perspectives, and help us see the blessings that surround us every day.
There’s a third lesson and one that is painfully relevant today: “Cover your mouth when you sneeze.”
All of us remember our parents and teachers harping on that rule. I recall sitting at my desk in first grade when the little boy next to me sneezed without covering his mouth and “shared” a coating of something akin to what you get when you boil okra. Everyone one in the class yelled, “Ewwwww!” and moved away from his desk.
After the moment of trauma subsided, the teacher calmly explained to him that sneezing on people was rude, and that covering your mouth was something you do out of respect for your fellow students so that you don’t “share” the okra slime and the germs that live in it.
Our country is tearing apart over these simple lessons. “Please” and “thank you” have disappeared from our national vocabulary. Kindness and gratitude toward others are lacking. And cover your mouth when you sneeze? After years of treating that lesson as simple common sense, some now find it a call to arms.
Why? The only difference today is that we’re talking about a 3 x 5 piece of cloth covering your mouth instead of your hand. With over 190,000 Americans dead and 6 million infected from a deadly airborne virus, the disconnect is hard to process.
Would you want to be rolled into an operating room for surgery by a team of doctors who were not masked? Would you use a paint sprayer on your house without a mask? Would you spray toxic insecticide in your garden without a mask?
Be vigilant about teaching the next generation the transformative power of kindness, gratitude, and respect. Truly, the only way to save our nation and change our world is to return to “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Cover your mouth.”
One of the main arguments against covering your mouth is something akin to: “It’s my God given right to choose not to cover my mouth and face.” If I had used that line with my parents, I would definitely have had to cover my mouth because I would have been missing teeth. It’s like America has collectively reverted back to the teenage years when it was vogue to question authority even if it went against all reason. Or worse yet, like our country has lapsed into the terrible two’s when the only word we knew and used as toddlers was, “No!”
This tragic time in our nation’s history reminds me of how a playground bully would pit two friends (or at least non-enemies) against each other. “He’s calling you out!” “Are you gonna let her get away with that!” “He said something about your mama!” Thanks to the messages from an angry, corrosive bully, you begin to see your “friend” through a lens of suspicion—a lens that takes years to fade from your eyes.
Today, the role of playground bully is played by the media and our government leaders. And we, as the citizens of this great nation (originally friends or at least non-enemies), have been pitted against each other creating a lens of suspicion that will take years to remove.
I don’t know if my generation has enough years left to recover. Those suspicions have been planted so deep it may take multiple generations to remove them. The only thing left to do is go back to the basics. Remember the lessons we were taught as children. Be vigilant about teaching the next generation the transformative power of kindness, gratitude, and respect. Truly, the only way to save our nation and change our world is to return to “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Cover your mouth.”
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comic, the Rev. Susan Sparks is pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of three books, including her newest, Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year—Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!