We did not have to wait until April 29, 1967, for the release of Aretha Franklin’s iconic hit song, “Respect” to know the meaning of the word.
Given how I was reared, I shake my head whenever I see people, young and old, behaving in a disrespectful manner. Those that grew up during my era, remember how respect for yourself and others was drilled into you.
I recall how discipline was meted out by fathers. If you read this column, you will recall that I highlighted remarks by my brother-in-law’s son at his funeral service. His son, my nephew, shared a story of how, at age 17, he arrived home at 2 a.m., two hours after his curfew. He crept up the stairs to his bedroom and then encountered his father sitting, in the dark, at the top of the stairs. His father confronted him and his son pushed by his father while giving him one of those hand waves that signaled that he should be left alone.
According to my nephew, the next thing he knew, his father’s hands were on his collar and he was forcefully pushed up against the wall. His father admonished him never to disrespect him again; and, according to my nephew, it never happened again.
Approaches like this by parents that included intense corporal punishment were not the only way or perhaps not the most effective way to get children to behave in a respectful manner. Often, respectful behavior was a result of things that our parents required us to do.
Words that were regularly spoken by young people were a result of the teachings and the behavior modeled by their parents. I suspect that you, much like me, are stopped in your tracks when you hear a young person say words such as “yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, and no ma’am.
I must admit that I am annoyed with being referred to as “sir” as I sense that it suggests that I am old. Yet, I recognize that the person addressing me uses this introduction as a sign of respect. In the twilight days of my life, I address those whose names I do not know as sir or ma’am. After all, this is how my parents insisted that I address others. Saying “excuse me” is not only being polite but it demonstrates a sign of respect. How often do you hear someone use this expression?
Then, there are words that appear to be coming out of the mouths of drunken sailors but are routinely used today, frequently by young people. I cannot imagine the thought processes of young people who make the use of profanity a common practice today. Some think that using such foul language is cute and acceptable. On several occasions, I have found myself running away from situations, where I was tempted to snatch up the young child and even the young adult and put my size 10 shoe up their rear end. A young child berating a parent in public and using profanity, were not things that we saw, back in the day.
Some of you will recall the respect demonstrated by others with the utterance of the words, thank you. I have been reminded by various internet postings of the power of the words “thank you.” I am also reminded that these words demonstrate respect.
I suspect that some of you have experienced, as I have, giving someone a gift or expressing compliments and the receiver of the gift or compliment says absolutely nothing. Call it a lack of class, if you must, but without a doubt it is evidence of being disrespectful. For most of us, growing up as children, thank you was an expression that we were expected to use. Was there ever a time in the past when our children did not say “excuse me” in all cases when such an expression was warranted? At the dinner table, do you recall young children reaching across another person or across the table? Clearly, the answer is “no” as our parents instilled in us phrases such as “please pass me the bread,” or whatever was requested. Again, these were clear signs of being polite and respectful.
There are other ways respect is demonstrated. You might remember the times when men gave their seats to females on a crowded bus. Have you seen such respectful behavior in recent years? Do men or women hold open doors today when others are entering or leaving a room or building? Do not get me started on boys or men coming into a restaurant and failing to remove their hats. I have even seen this act carried out in church. Some of you can recall a time when, you would have been afraid to go out on a date, or to a party or dance dressed in scanty outfits such as the kind some young females wear today; definitely young men would not dare leave the house with their pants hanging below their derriere as is often observed today. If it did occur in public, back in the day, bystanders would not hesitate to approach the young person and provide some no-nonsense advice. During my era, young children would not dare show disrespect towards parents out in public, at home or even behind closed doors. Now, what do you have to say about children calling their parents by their first names today? Do you think this could have happened in the past? Absolutely not as this was the epitome of being disrespectful, back in the day?
I have no explanation for why some children behave and respond to their parents and others, in disrespectful ways today. Can you imagine a young child talking back to his or her parents? Can you conceive of young children using profanity in responding to their parents? Such behavior was inconceivable in the past, as behavior was built on principles that emphasized respect. There is something very powerful in the words by Marvin Gaye, “Our children are our future.” But, how can our children be our future if we do not take steps to instill in them practices that emphasize respect, in accordance with a strong commitment to principles of respect? Yes, it was long before the days of Aretha Franklin’s recording of resect that we embraced being respectful, in accordance with the way our parents and grandparents reared us, back in the day.