Please Forgive Me, and Thank you!

One of my first stops every morning on the way to a busy day is ScienceDaily.com. I find articles of interest in medicine, life and in Biblical counseling. Often these articles give me information that is useful in the process of counseling. And so today, I found a summary of a research article dealing with the way we speak to each other. In the realm of counseling, there are few subjects that we will spend more time working on than communication. How we speak to each other matters. The words we choose are important.

One observation about communication that most of us could agree with is that the level of our national conversations has become coarse. Words that would have resulted in my mother washing my mouth out with soap have become the exclamation points of public speech. We see our national leaders on television frequently using words once thought even unfit for a locker room. The magic words that my mother and Captain Kangaroo taught us, please and thank you, are often forgotten. And, it leaves our speech all the poorer.

This week a study was published that looked at the importance of saying “please and thank you, and I am sorry.”[1] The experiment aimed to explain why thanking and apologizing, and bragging and blaming matter. The study identified these four words as tools that are used to transfer responsibility, credit or blame. They found, as we might have expected, that these four kinds of communication can either make or break relationships with friends, loved ones, in church, or in business.

The researchers predicted that thanking and apologizing would make the individual appear caring and generous, at the expense of appearing less competent and weak. They predicted that most people would prefer the former. And, they were right. In conversations, 68% of the time participants would thank others as opposed to bragging. They also observed that saying thank you or apologizing occurred less when the participant was in a situation where appearing competent was important.[2]

So, if it seems that people think courteous speech is important, then why are our ears so often assaulted by foul language? The question becomes how can we bridge the distance between opinion and practice. If 68% of the people in the study believed that appearing caring and generous when speaking is good, then how can we hear more of those kinds of words?

There is a solution and a simple one at that. It was a phrase that we often heard from our “elders.” It went something like, “if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” There are many statements like this and you might wonder where they come from. This one comes from straight from the Bible. Paul said it in his letter to the Ephesian church. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to the hearer.”(Ephesians 4:29)  My brother often said that if the person who is about to hear what you are going to say won’t consider it a gift, don’t say it. If our nation observed this, there would be great sections of our country in absolute silence!

No unwholesome word.

Let’s be plain for a moment. That means no cussing! It may be fashionable among politicians and in the movies, but it has no place on the lips of any Christian. Our speech reflects upon our Savior! So we should pick our words wisely and let it be “with grace, as though seasoned with salt” as Paul said to the Colossians. (Colossians 4:6)

Words good for edification that meet needs graciously!

When we speak, it ought to be aimed at building people up, not tearing people down. Much of what is offered as news is nothing more than gossip aimed at destroying reputations. Christians should never participate in it. We are supposed to be picking our words so that others will grow in their knowledge of the Lord and His word. And, we should do it graciously. Arguments rarely change minds, so Paul would tell us that we should not be quarrelsome, but able to teach. You may get the opportunity to argue or teach, but you rarely do both.

Forgive me, Please and Thank you!

My mother worked to teach all of us to respectfully say please and thank you. My wife took up the job to do this and reminds me that all of my requests should be prefaced with please and ended with thank you! Their efforts have done me a world of good in all arenas of life, but particularly at work. I find that my associates are far more likely to respond to my requests when I say please and thank you!

Later in life, I learned the importance of asking forgiveness, not just saying I’m sorry, but asking God and the individual I harmed to forgive me for doing them wrong. Admitting wrong and asking to be forgiven is an amazingly powerful process. It restores relationships. It relieves us of guilt. It gives us the opportunity to do restitution. As the Apostle John said, “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9)

So the researchers were right. Please, thank you, and forgive me, are indispensable phrases that make life work well. And I could have saved them thousands of research dollars. It is what the Bible says.


[1] Carnegie Mellon University. “Thanking and apologizing: Talk that isn’t cheap.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190314151655.htm>.

[2] Shereen J. Chaudhry, George Loewenstein. Thanking, apologizing, bragging, and blaming: Responsibility exchange theory and the currency of communication.. Psychological Review, 2019; DOI: 10.1037/rev0000139

Charles Hodges, M.D.Charles Hodges, M.D.
Dr Charles Hodges is a counselor and instructor at Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. He also travels and teaches in FBCM's training conferences and for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He is the author of "Good Mood Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression & Bipolar Disorder." Dr Hodges is a family physician practicing in Indianapolis, Indiana.