It happened so fast that I barely had time to react. Joe and I normally take the train at the same time because we both work near Midtown Manhattan. There were a lot of people, as per the norm for that time of the day, who wanted to get onto the train so that they could get to work or wherever else they were going.

I Believe I Am The One To Be Excused
There was quite a rough confrontation, verbally speaking, which very soon took place after I got on the train. As there were a lot of people trying to get onto the train at the same time, there was just a little bit of pushing, which is also standard for that time of the morning. One man apparently took his pushing to an entirely new level and pushed someone a little bit more than they were willing to be pushed.

The man immediately brought it to his attention. He asked why he had not excused himself for doing what he had done. The man started to stammer and say that he normally did say excuse me but that he noticed that most of the time, whenever he excused himself he was ignored. Of course, the one time he chose not to excuse himself was the one time that he happened to encounter someone that insisted on having it mentioned. The conversation degraded from this point. Comments were made by each of them about how the other person represented how society was going in the wrong direction and even more rude words were used to describe each of them.

Sometimes in my mind when I see things like this happen I try to imagine alternate ways the scenarios could have turned out. In my mind, I saw this particular conflict ending a few different ways. For one, I imagined the first person bumping into the second person and immediately apologizing. The second person then quickly accepted the apology and assured the person that he understood that it was not intentional.

The second imagined scenario involves the first person bumping into the second person and not apologizing. The second person then demands some sort of apology, as per the real life case. The first person then would excuse himself and explain his lack of apology as being down to his mind being on other things, followed by another apology.

Unfortunately, none of my imagined scenarios occurred. There was part of me that really wanted to get the attention of the slighted man and compliment him on his scarf. I was concerned that he might be sufficiently irritated that anyone was speaking with him after the previous encounter, so I decided against it.

I heard a story about Mark Twain many years ago on the radio. It was alleged that he was once paid the handsome sum of five dollars per word written. A fan of his sent him a five dollar bill and asked for his best word. His reply was “Thanks” – something to think about for at least a brief moment.

I have encountered many people who, regardless of what you do for them, will never thank you for anything. It is almost as though they consider it that what you are doing for them is their right, and so it is not necessary. On the other hand, I also know people who rush to get thank you cards out so that the recipient does not even have a moment of hesitation, wondering how the person felt about being taken out to the theater or being invited to dinner.

What is it that separates the first sort of person from the second sort of person? I’m not sure if it’s a lack of awareness of the impact of action, or a simple oblivion about life in general. Perhaps it is time to examine the way you do things and ask yourself if you are more like the former or the latter. Might it be better if you were more thankful?

Revisiting both the cases of the bumping man and the grateful people, we must examine the question of tone. I heard a great story about how a man got presents for three different children. Each of the children called to say thank you for the gifts. However, the tone in each of the children was different. It was not too difficult to tell in which cases there was a parent present, nudging the child to make the phone calls, and in which cases they were less present. I remarked that I did not recall ever not saying thank you and he said that I was clearly raised in a proper manner.

Imagine if the man who bumped the other man had just, after being reprimanded, said that he was sorry for not excusing himself instead of just making excuse after excuse for his bad behavior. Imagine he had said that he was sorry and it was clear that it was a heartfelt apology. Now imagine that he had just blurted out “Oh sorry” with all the care of the average disgruntled sales clerk. Only one of those responses would have been welcome.

In fiscal year 2009, we should make a concerted effort to try to realize that sometimes we bump into people, and all it takes is a couple of words to hopefully rectify the situation. Likewise, when we go out to the theater thanks to a dear friend of ours, all it takes is a few words written on a bit of paper to let that friend know that we appreciate what they did for us.