Re-Claiming Respect

Written by fatherfrank  |  12. July 2001

Recently I was talking to a couple preparing for marriage. Both are school teachers. They both teach on the elementary school level in a local school district and love it. They love their students and their profession. It was refreshing to speak with them and listen to their enthusiasm about teaching and the untapped potential within our schools.
As we talked, we spoke about how the world had changed even in their lifetime. They spoke of how school or rather the climate in school in some ways is radically different from their time.
The issue of respect came up. It was unsolicited. Both commented that they felt values are so absent. They were troubled by how disrespectful children are in general. They both shared that if you want respect, you need to give respect. The groom mentioned that he has not had a discipline problem in his four years teaching fourth grade, even though some of his fourth graders have been as notorious as third graders. He attributes their positive behavior to the positive atmosphere in his classroom each day and his tenacious commitment to always interact with his students (and all people) respectfully.
Respect is sadly lacking across the generations. In almost every area of life, we see people treating other people in disrespectful and demeaning ways. Whether it is the arrogance and bullying that sometimes goes on in the criminal justice system or when a social services worker demeans or inappropriately yells at a person in need of emergency services.
Unfortunately, we have teachers who speak disrespectfully to students, clergy who yell at members of their congregation, police officers who disrespect motorists and politicians who dump road rage on innocent people. The list of people from every walk of life who act disrespectfully is endless.
Thus, it is not shocking that a growing number of young people act disrespectfully. It seems to me that anyone in public service: teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, law enforcement agents, social welfare workers, elected officials and the clergy to name a few, need to work on acting and speaking respectfully, even if they are not treated respectfully. There is a bullying mentality afoot that is most troubling.
While driving home on Route 347 on a Sunday evening, I saw two young motorcyclists doing wheelies in front of me. The wheelies they were performing were almost on top of the cars in front of them. They were frightening the drivers to the point that one driver pulled over to the shoulder. As I watched, they passed other cars at excessive speed from the inside or on the shoulder. To say they were acting recklessly would be an understatement.
Those same two young motorcyclists allegedly gave the "finger" to motorists who expressed displeasure at their behavior by honking their horns.
Shortly after that show, the two alleged motorcyclists started intimidating a young college student who was on his way home from work. They stopped for a light, one on either side of the college student, and started verbally harassing him and leaning on his car. As they left the light, one motorcyclist cut sharply in front of the college student and started to do rear end wheelies on the hood of his car.
The young college student became frightened. He quickly turned off Route 347 and the two motorcyclists followed him. The student tried to lose them in a development, but couldn't. He ended up pulling into a stranger's driveway. One motorcyclist blocked his car in. The other jumped off his bike and started cursing and threatening the college student. The motorcyclist reached in and grabbed the driver by the neck, scratching his neck severely. He smashed the college student's glasses and began punching him in the face. Only after this terrified twenty year old leaned on the horn of his car, did these two reprehensible young adults leave. The college student tried to get their license plate numbers, but with his glasses smashed, he could not make out the numbers.
This kind of harassment is on the increase. The frightening reality is that too many young people engaged in this type of behavior are not held accountable. They literally get over on the system and continue to torment innocent people. However, the next time they engage in their games, someone in his or her fear might panic and cause an accident, get hurt or be responsible for hurting other innocent people.
Many raise the question why has respect declined and social behavior regressed among young adults? The quick response is to blame the media, music, movies and videos. They seem to exploit humanity in every way conceivable.
Clearly, the media, as a norm, does not reinforce the traditional values of respect and responsibility. However, it would be too simplistic and skirting the issue to blame that venue for all of our social mayhem.
If we look more closely at these concerns, they really have their origin in the family. The family has been in decline for almost two decades. One's model or family structure is not at issue, but rather the behaviors that the adults in that family model.
If children grow up watching their father or father figure continually demeaning and abusing women, there is a good chance that boys will unconsciously assume those attitudes and behaviors and girls will grow up believing those behaviors are just part of life.
Every family system, no matter how functional or dysfunctional it is, has its' own code of ethics. The parents in the family pick and choose what social rules they will comply with. Most likely, their children will do the same. If the adults are rude and disrespectful with school authorities, more often than not their children will model that behavior.
As adults, we need to re-claim respect as a centerpiece in our own interpersonal relationships. If our peers are rude, reckless and disrespectful, we must not stoop to their level. Rather, we must call them to accountability. It is not about being preachy or self-righteous, but rather about leading by simple, positive example.
Remember, one person can make a difference!

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