“Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am,” are as much a part of speech to me as nouns and verbs. I don’t have to think about using them. However, thanks to the consistent training of my Southern Mama, not using them requires a special effort similar to the deprogramming of a computer and equally challenging for this belle.
Over the years I’ve unintentionally offended many ladies with what I simply consider good manners— southerners, at that. I think of all people they should understand, but each time the offended one had made it clear that she isn’t that much older than me, and I shouldn’t “ma’am” her. I don’t mean to throw Mama under the bus, but let’s be honest. She’s to blame here. Sorry, Mama, but it’s true. Y’all teach us when to start but no one tells us when or how to stop.
This morning, however, I had a lengthy phone call with a lady who isn’t from around here. I thought she was going to ask for my head on a silver platter before we wrapped up our business. Early on she stopped and very testily asked me to just call her Sharon. I agreed and I tried, but it was almost comical, y’all. During our Q&A session, “ma’am” just kept slipping out. I could literally hear her huffy breaths. I wanted to respect her wishes, but I’m a life-long Louisianan and what comes out of my mouth automatically reflects that fact.
My southern birth didn’t bequeath me with those manners by osmosis, you understand. They were instilled in me. So it is with the followers of Christ. We may we Christians but our new birth doesn’t mean we will automatically display the character of our Jesus. His qualities are instilled in us only by the training of His Holy Spirit who comes to walk with us. The process is gradual for sure, but don’t be deceived. With time the life He instills should be as noticeable and unprompted as a southerner’s “Yes, ma’am”, only immeasurably sweeter and carrying with it the power to change the world.