As a child, I used to annoy my mother by refusing to say “please.” 

She’d tease me by asking, “And what’s the magic word?” using that special tone known only to mothers, to which I’d reply “open sesame!” But, putting aside the sort of a brat I was, I think we can agree that please is the easiest of the three magic words. A courtesy so universal it goes mostly unnoticed. 

Only with, “I’m sorry,” do things get more interesting. 

There are two kinds of I’m-sorrys. First is the one we mumble when we bump into someone or knock something over. From my time in London, I can tell you that Brits treat saying this kind of sorry is like a national sport.

The second—the one that takes courage to say—is the one you use after you’ve let someone down. You can put things right by admitting your fault and doing it like you mean it.

Which brings us to the most interesting of the lot: thank you.

First, there’s that absent-minded thanks, said when a friend passes the salt, or a stranger holds the door.

Second is the thank-you you’d say in front of a crowd during your Oscar acceptance speech, or perhaps in private, during a heartfelt conversation with your father. This type of thank you shows you appreciation.

The third kind, the one that takes more than words to express, is gratitude. You can show gratitude by buying flowers for your mother, finding time for a friend when you’re busy, or dedicating a book to someone who helped you get where you are now.

A few months ago, I showed at the doorstep of my elementary school math teacher. She might’ve failed to teach me any math (I can’t blame her), but she instilled in me the love for science-fiction and other things made up and is one of the very few people truly responsible for where I’m now. The kind of thank you I owed her needed saying in person.

The conversation we had is a story for another time.

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