KJ Hannah Greenberg

The Limits of ‘Please’ and ‘Thank-You’

Our days, expectedly, are filled with expressions about the places from whence we’ve come and to where we’re heading. These countenances, especially when suasory, are consequential. Too frequently, they support sanctioned lies, contempt of protocol, and kowtowing to questionable doctrines. Accordingly, when we connect, we repeatedly hurt ourselves and others.

While it’s fine to discuss the countries that we left upon making aliyah or to pivot conversations around our respective tastes in shawarma, it’s less acceptable to encourage discourse constituted by veiled fabrications, one-down strafes, or the supposition that we’re automatons who agree to whatever we witness. Rather, our interactions ought to be concerned with the qualities of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, and excellence vs. nonexcellence. Similarly, our exchanges’ prescriptions, descriptions, and metatheories ought to matter.

Each rhetorical instance in which we engage offers us the potential to share “the actual creation, development, continuance, and manifestation of individual humanity [… A]ll culture is composed of individuals in social linkages” (Dance, 189 and 196). That is, regardless of the scaffolding that we use to define ourselves and our associations, we can employ our words to enlarge our prospects or we can allow our schemata to limit us. Meaning, we don’t have to be stymied, don’t have to dismiss our communication responsibilities.

In “Dialogical Thinking: Critical Thought Essential to the Acquisition of Rational Knowledge and Passions,” Richard W. Paul of the Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique posits that,

[u]nwittingly, we begin as children–and unless we get extensive dialogical practice—we continue as adults to use egocentric and self-serving theories of people and the world. We organize our experience and make judgments from the perspective of assumptions and theories we would not admit, if questioned, [to] having (Paul, 132).

Simply, we mindlessly reprise the structuring of arguments taught to us by the institutions of our youth except when we intentionally alter our paths. In preserving the status quo, we live mechanically. Even our “pleases” and “thank-you’s” neglect to reflect our authentic gratitude. Instead, those articulations remain ornamental, cautious codes.

Provided that we follow “official” directions for discourse, we stay incarcerated, i.e., we stay disenfranchised from unrestricted thought. For example, deliberate how readily most of us transmit cultural myths surrounding whistle blowers, how we habitually side with the instigators, not the injured parties. If we, even implicitly, encourage punishing the mistreated, then we are as morally suspect as the assailants.

Additionally, mull over the notion that “ [a]ssault survivors are not choosing a political community when they call [a] rape crisis line. They are desperate and in pain, and they are not ready to examine the world in theoretical terms or to rethink their identities, choices, relationships, and goals” (Cloud, 34). Nevertheless, too regularly, we re-victimize the aggrieved by excusing medical and law enforcement personnel’s untoward treatment of them (Whiteside). Failing to protest harm or failing to speak out about it makes us as culpable as the transgressors.

It’s not just whistle blowers and the objects of violent crime who suffer from society’s indifference. Other folks have endured comparable psychological and physical aggressions.

Sometimes, we go through horrific encounters at the hands of store clerks, fellow airline passengers, or intercity drivers. Those character’s enacted entitlement over and again disregards others’ well-being. We bear injury from them because of our cohorts’ unresponsiveness.

Often, just a few words could deter bullies. Sadly, most of us are normally silent. Hence, our tormentors’ “rationalist approach to ethics … is not undermined by the occasional persistence of attitudes we should but cannot justify” (Hubbs, 13). Bad men and women get away with literal murder.

At times, slaughter is not counted on a single hand but per the population of an entire country. Mull over the media-based curbs on IDF soldiers’ efficacy; “everyone agree[s] that the media is a strategic consideration during hostilities. Since war is for the world’s attention—and that is precisely where the Palestinians hope to win—the media element is critical” (The Israel Democracy Institute, 152). Time after time, shaded “reports” of combat goings-on have biased the world against Israel, have caused Israel’s’ leaders to handicap their troops, and, as a result, have caused needless deaths.

Whether assaults are plied against specific denizens or entire nations, the existing state of affairs eclipses change, especially when the linguistic accountability contiguous with events is questioned. As long as we fail to question the morality undergirding our discourse, we’ll fail to act justly. Our “[p]hilosophy matters…because philosophical ideas …enter our culture in the form of a world view [, which] affect[s] us in thousands of ways” (Lakoff, 157). “Please” and “thank-you” can never compensate for messages whose gist is “that’s not my problem.”

Nonetheless, we are capable of articulating “our [choices], in the least, as well as our ideas about the function of society. [Our] orality affect[s] our thinking  . . . ‘radically’ and ‘profoundly’ . . . creates, changes, affects, assists, or hinders higher mental processes” (Dance, 194). Not only are we able, but, more so, we are obliged, to protest savagery. If we boost innocents, not betray them, and if we back our brave guardsmen, not thwart their efforts, we’d live better lives. Beyond expressing civilities, we can utilize semantics as a powerful healer.


Cloud, D. L. “Narrative, Ideology, Therapy: A Theory and Case Study.” Speech Communication Association Convention. San Francisco. 1989.

Dance, F. E. X. “Ong’s Voice: ‘I’  the Oral\Intellect, You and We.” Text and Performance Quarterly. 9. 1989, 185-198.

Hubbs, Graham. “Answerability without Answers.” The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. 7.3, 2013, 1-15. Accessed 25 Mar. 2022.

Lakoff, G. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. U. Chicago, 1987.

Paul, Richard W. “Dialogical Thinking: Critical Thought Essential to the Acquisition of Rational Knowledge and Passions.” Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice. eds. Joan Baron and Robert Sternberg . W.H. Freeman, 1987, 127-148.

The Israel Democracy Institute. “The IDF and the Press during hostilities” [sic.] 4 June 2002. Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.

Whiteside, Steph. “How Seeking Justice Retraumatizes Assault Survivors.” Illinois Public Media. 15 Nov. 2018. Accessed 18 Dec. 2022.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.