Friday, 16 August 2013

Mr Respect

"Back when I was young, we didn't disrespect our elders like that."

I remember frequently hearing comments like that when I was young. Older people exclaiming their displeasure with the way the next generation did... well, anything. I used to roll my eyes at the notion. Grumpy old people. Later in life I started to see their point, as younger kids wore less and less clothing, expressed their opinions more, and stayed out later.

But now, I'm on to the next circumstantial stage. A very contemplative point in life where I conscientiously have to decide what values and morals to pass on to my child, which beliefs I have to save from extinction, and what traditions can go out the door due to their plain lack of meaning or outdated objective. Every decision I make can't solely be because those before me had a standard or method (though we thank them for the scientific, medicinal, governmental, and relational breakthroughs they have accomplished for us). I have to ask myself why do we do and say.

Like I've mentioned before, some things are obvious, like saying please and thank you (okay, maybe not obvious why, but obvious in that it is my choice). But others things aren't as black and white. Turn one direction and they matter, turn another direction and they are a distant memory or an annoying presence that others want gone. One person judges for lack of action and on the opposite spectrum another judges for doing what they find unnecessary.

Like mister and misses. I look around me and see no reason to teach my daughter to address anyone by their last name. It doesn't appear to be put into practice. There have been a few people I was not certain about and when asked they usually felt uncomfortable with the titles. Albeit, the idea of first name basis for her elders is ingrained in me as strange. When I started going to church 16 years ago, I was surrounded by Mister So-and-So and Misses So-and-So. My experience was never as staid as some have grown up with. I've heard of people not even knowing the first names of others for their whole lives.

I would assume many factors have changed this curtesy. Women becoming stronger in their voice and not wanting to be called their mother-in-law's title (I can see it--Sorry, were you talking to me or my MIL?). More couples with different last names and more children with unmatched last names. Less married women in families and therefore a larger question of miss verses misses. A call for equality between women and men. The rise of trans-gender. A change in the view of how children fit in to society.

When I was young my step father, and many adults, thought children automatically fell into the seen and not heard category. We were forced to respect, whether earned or not. Obedience was enforced through fear. Our opinion did not matter and we were definitely not important. Now, in contrast, I see children as little human beings that need to know we see them, hear them, value them, and care about them. They can still learn to be polite and kind. They can be courteous and reverent on a first name basis.

I'm not saying that anyone who requires titles to be used is putting children under foot. But to me these titles represent a time when the world was all about the lower and the higher. The masters and the slaves. Starting at the bottom of the ladder and slowly working up. (Now, many expect to effortlessly leap to the top rung with no risk involved, but that's a different story).

I live in a world where the sweaty janitor or the grubby laborer is just as real a person as the proficient CEO or the ostentatious celebrity. (Life with instant information-sharing has proven they can all falter.) Who you are as a soul isn't determined by where you are at this moment in your life. (Do you need to read that again and declare it over yourself?) We are all beings with potential, feelings, hopes, failures, strengths, sins. No matter our age or occupation. And my daughter will learn that.

She will also learn, though, that she is surrounded by people from different eras. School will probably keep the titles, and so will doctors. There will be people in her life who are used to being addressed by their last name. I am hoping she will be comfortable asking when she needs to make a clarification. Even if they'll most likely laugh back and say, "Don't call me Mister!"

When I was young, we feared some elders but sure didn't respect them in any way. The more someone tried to force it, the less esteem we actually had for them.

"To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge." -Erich Fromm

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