Magic words

About seven years ago my daughter came home with a pink card. On it was her home work, “Dad, we have been asked to memorize these words. The teacher said every time she hears somebody say any of the words they would get a star, and whoever has the most stars at the end of the term will get an award”.

After this elaborate detail I was curious to find out what the words were. Right at the top of the card in bold golden letters sandwiched by twinkling stars was written – MAGIC WORDS. Then lower down they were listed – PLEASE; SORRY; THANK YOU; EXCUSE ME; and PARDON ME.

My grandmother Anna Belia, God rest her soul in peace, was an expert in application of these words. She took the whole interaction with the words to the next level. When I look back, I think she must have been on the panel that crafted them and imbued them with the magic.

Every time we would go visiting my grandmother, our parents would ensure that there was a pick-up load of foodstuff to deliver. So there would be maize, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, millet, sugar, salt, tea leaves and similar culinary fare filled with lots of love. In addition, my Dad would fold up some cash and detail one of us to give it to my grandmother. Upon her seeing what we had brought, she would spend the next 10, 15, 20 or more minutes saying thank you to each of us in the visiting party. This accompanied with song, ululations, dance and hugs.

After the visit and just before we left the homestead, the workers in the homestead would surreptitiously stock the truck with foodstuff. Each and every gift we brought would be matched or bettered. Anna Belia would then call the youngest of us and whisper in their ear…. “keep this cash and when you get home give it to your Dad. Tell him its for your school fees. Don’t give it to him before you get home”. You guessed right, when we got home it would be the same wad of notes my Dad had given with an extra coin or note added.

This week the leader of a not-for-profit organization I do pro-bono work for gave us an assignment. We were to thank a number of sponsors and supporters for a particular project on his behalf. The request came with specific instructions on how we would do it.

From the onset, we were supposed to introduce ourselves and the organization we work for. Then we would confirm that the individual we had called is indeed the one we were asked to speak to. Thirdly, we were to confirm if the time we were calling was a good time for us to have the conversation.

The forth instruction was to thank them with very specific words from our team leader which went beyond just saying “Thank you”. We were to give the exact reason why we were thanking them. Lastly, we were asked to ask the sponsors if there was anything they needed the organization’s support on.

I undertook the task with a smile on my face. Apart from the joy it brought me to be the bearer of this message, hearing the happiness on the other side of the line when I delivered it was even more gratifying. That aside, the task made me pick up a number of lessons.

I have heard it said that human beings (that is you and me) are so thankless. It is a generalization which is accompanied by a similarly harsh – “the world is so unfair”. It’s true that with technological advancement things happen much faster. This has had an effect of our relationships. We rarely get time to appreciate or be appreciated, time to wait, time to laugh, time to seek each other out; in a nutshell we do not have time for one another.

So the lessons I picked from the assignment:

    set aside the moments to say the words that matter to those who need to hear them.
    get to know other people and what they are going through. Go beyond the name, where they stay, and what they do
    Be deliberate, honest and truthful when you speak to others.
    Do not withhold words and acts of appreciation, praise, thankfulness, and empathy when it is in your power to express them.
    Be available for others and especially those who responded when you reached out.

It doesn’t hurt to spare a few minutes and have someone really know that you mean the words you speak – Please, Thank you, Excuse me, I am sorry, Pardon me… The hearer feels appreciated, loved, respected or even comforted. On the other hand once the words have been spoken it brings happiness, joy, relief, forgiveness or even closure to you.

Is this not what the makes the world go round? So whether you get the award my daughter’s teacher promised or the ululation and hugs like those of Anna Belia, you leave the world a better place for having uttered the MAGIC WORDS.

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