03 August 2012

Please, thank-you, ownership, attribution

By Steven Depolo
I'm amazed at how relatively difficult it is to teach Eve to say please and thank-you. I bet many people wonder why it should be so difficult, to instill such a concept onto our children. But what is that concept exactly? It's of course much more than politeness.

I think it's about ownership and attribution. Now, just suspend your possible reaction to a negative connotation on the word ownership in relation to politeness. To say "please" to someone (as in to embellish a request, not to ask for pleasure) is to acknowledge that person's sovereignty over something - or ownership. To say "thank you" to someone is to acknowledge their giving something of that to you. (I don't have anything to support that assertion, I just made it up. Any linguists out there want to set me straight?)

So, if it is a common difficulty to teach young children when to say please and thank-you (and I mean difficult in relation to most other concepts and actions at that age) could it be that ownership and attribution are instinctively foreign concepts to grasp for people generally. Might we infer from that some sort of evolutionary meaning? Or that ownership and attribution are ideas and behaviours unique to some cultures and not a ubiquitous across all human culture?

I have heard that many indigenous cultures, mostly hunter gatherer societies, have very different ideas about ownership, especially when it comes to land and personal possessions. But I don't know enough about that to say...

1 comment:

Jon Mason said...

Ok, Leigh

I'm also intrigued about why these words might present a problem (a blindspot?) for a young child. Dunno whether it's necessarily about issues of property though. Maybe in some cases - like when money is involved! Reckon it might have something to do with a child's development - living in a 'me-centric' zone cushioned by dependency on mum & dad who give 'un-conditional' love so don't 'need' please & thankyou. Please & thankyou are also words that involve social interaction & acknowledgement of 'the other'.