Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: What do you say when someone coughs?

“Bless you” is an interesting little saying. It’s replaced, “God bless you,” making it almost as secular as a toothbrush or signaling to change lanes. People don’t even pay attention when they say the “blessing” part. This phrase was originally contrived as a spell against the heart attack thought to follow a sneeze (or so numerous people have told me, all singularly proud in their knowledge). The intent has fallen out of the public mind. Today saying, “Bless you,” after a sneeze has everything to do with a momentary extension of good will that is not particularly connoted by its words and not necessitated by its situation. It is a peculiar wonder in our increasingly insular and seemingly selfish society; it is an example of needless kindness. We need a great deal more kindness in the world, and this rare example of needlessly contributing may just help solve our deficit. The saying doesn’t force you to convert, defend your belief structure or scoff. And really, you shouldn’t do anything so caustic – you owe the speaker a debt of gratitude, if not for the momentary verbal kindness, then because he didn’t clock you for sneezing on him.

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