Teachable Moments, by Will Saunders
There is always an opportunity to teach someone a different way of viewing things. If you do it in a respectful manner and if the other person has an open mind, it can be a beautiful learning milieu. I experienced that recently and it was a great feeling for me and for that other person.
So, the other day I was exiting a building in Bethesda, Maryland, behind two teenage boys and an older gentleman. One of the boys held the door for the old guy and he thanked the teen. The teen smiled and politely said, “Sure, no problem sir.” While the guy and I were waiting for taxis and after the teens ran off, the guy began to mumble about how you’re supposed to say “You’re welcome!” in response to someone thanking you. That’s when I put on my teacher hat. Initially I was going to keep silent, but decided to speak up for the teen.
I first asked the man the intent behind that “You’re welcome!” phrase. I know what it means but I wanted to get in the man’s head. He went on to talk about how it shows you acknowledging someone who thanks you and that you didn’t mind helping them and that you accept or appreciate the expression of gratitude. As he was talking, he evidently realized that the kid had done exactly that, but he expressed it in his own words instead of the words the old guy expected to hear. Don’t you hate it when you are all revved up to let someone ‘have it’ but then they steal your thunder? Well, that’s how it went that day. I was about to teach that man something new, but he ‘got it’ before I had a chance to, just from me asking him that one simple, little question. I was prepared to tell him that it’s a lot like two friends greeting one another. They could say hello, howdy, hi there, what’s up, hey, hiya, or maybe some other word or phrase. Whether or not you like all of these greetings, they all convey the same message, albeit differently. Neither of them is wrong. They’re just different.
The same is true with the You’re welcome! phrase, and I helped that gentleman to see that. He thanked me and I said, “You’re welcome.” We both had a brief laugh before we parted. Things could have ended up differently if I had chastised him or corrected him in a condescending manner or tone. I approached it rather gingerly and had great results, and that exchange took fewer than three minutes. Even though he figured it out for himself, I was still the catalyst that made it happen. It doesn’t take much to sway a situation one way or another. We all can learn. We all can teach.