Ever get into a debate with someone and then come up with the perfect response later and never get the opportunity to use it? That is why I am writing today….
A couple of months ago, I got into an argument with an older family member. He insisted that children these days have no respect for their elders (*if you must, insert Rodney Dangerfield impression here*). This relative felt the only way to get respect from children is to intimidate them, even by physical means if necessary and that isn’t allowed anymore. The only teachers, he claimed, that had his respect, were the ones he feared.
I, however, see things differently.
Respect is not something that can be demanded from children. It must be earned and can only be taught by example.
Later that day, I realized we were talking about two entirely different things.
He was talking about obedience.
Of course we want children to be obedient (to a certain extent…. and to what extent is debatable.) But, I don’t want my children to fear me. I want them to cooperate because they understand that I have more experience and know and want what is best for them. I want them to trust me to be there when they need help, not run from me. Fear-based obedience may provide an effective short term solution to elicit cooperation, but will never result in respect. World leaders who rule through fear and demand obedience, are never loved or truly respected by their people.
Every single person deserves a basic amount of respect, simply for being a fellow human. AND, the only way to teach children to respect others is to offer them the same respect that you expect from them. As a parent or a teacher (or anyone else who encounters children), it means that every single day you have to serve as an example of how children should behave towards others. That means valuing them as humans and giving them a voice.
The way we speak about other people, and particularly those we don’t agree with, ultimately says more about ourselves than it does about others.
Here’s the tricky part: There are an awful lot of people in influential positions who aren’t particularly respectful of others.
Now, I will be the first person to tell you that a particular news-dominating head-of-state has done little to earn respect from anyone. Quite the reverse. In fact, the hateful, offensive speech thrown across twitter and in speeches and debates serves as a particularly potent example of how NOT to be respectful.
In this bizarre (dystopian?) political time, it is so tempting to make jokes at the expense of a person who blunders about in such a comical (yet dangerous) manner. Humour may be, indeed, the only thing keeping us afloat right now. It is essential.
BUT, when we start making jokes about a person’s hair, skin colour or hand size, it simply isn’t funny. It is EXACTLY what we tell our children not to do. Could you imagine a child making these kinds of jokes about a teacher or a classmate? No, we expect them to show the people they encounter the basic respect deserved by every human being.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love late night comedians (I’m looking at you John Oliver and Stephen Colbert), but I cringe every time jokes about physical appearance take the place of sophisticated political humour. There is so much better material available. At times, this particular administration seems to have been designed solely for the use of late night comics. There’s no need to go for the low-hanging fruit. Now, I will admit, I have been guilty of jumping on the bandwagon at times, but I write this as a reminder to myself as much as anything else. We are all better than this.
If we expect our children to be respectful of each other and of us, then we must be an example and show them, and controversial political figures, and everyone else the basic courtesy and kindness that we owe all human beings.
If your humour isn’t sophisticated enough to extend past name-calling or appearance bashing, I ask (respectfully) that you keep it away from my children.