Ever since I was a toddler, I have been instilled with knowledge by my parents on good manners and courtesy. Therefore, most of it has now taken the form of subtle acts of politeness which I perform by habit. One thing which I still struggle with, however, is the concept of respect. People generally believe — a good child is a child who respects his/her elders. Time and time again, the words “Respect your elders” have been pounded into our heads. I too, have been a victim of it. Or rather, I still am.
“Your daughter is such a lovely child! See kids, you should learn a thing or two from your elder sister.” My relatives would chant over and over again to their children. “It’s so rare to spot respect in kids nowadays. Your daughter is the epitome of what our younger ones should strive to be!” They would tell my mother all the while leaving me puzzled.
“How was that respect?” I would ask myself. “What did I do? All I did was smile, answer and obey. Did they not see through the forced curvature of my lips? Was it not conspicuous that the only reason why I nodded along with their flawed ideals was because it would’ve been ‘impolite’ to not do so? Why was I being praised for something so superficially phony?” The repetition of these incidents collectively contributed to making me think whether or not they know what respect is to begin with.
I believe genuine respect should be offered only to the people who earn it. It is the admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities and achievements. Not perfunctorily offered through thoughtlessly obeying and agreeing to anybody older than you. However, that does not give you the license to misbehave. For that is indeed insolent.
To give you an idea of how unfair this baseless tradition is, I’d like to mention a personal experience of a friend of mine. Writing had been her one and only passion ever since she was 12. Not only was it her interest, she excelled at it as well. So, needless to say, she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. I presume most of you can already guess which direction this is sailing to. Indeed, her dreams got shattered when she was rejected by her family for the last time, for they had already decided her path. Engineering was to be the only thing she should strive for. She pleaded them to allow her to follow her dreams, to which her father replied: “How dare you speak to me in such an insolent manner? Is this what I have taught you!? Stop arguing this instant!”
Surely, I’m not the only one who sees how unfair the situation is. Respect has nothing to do with her choice of career. She was only standing up for her dream yet she was accused of arguing. This serves as a perfect example to show the defective perception held by our seniors of the term ‘respect’. Why should the young ones have to abide by and agree to every single word uttered by an elder regardless of whether it is right or wrong? Why should they be held utterly defenseless with their backs against the wall while a senior person blatantly abuses the younger one, leaving them with no choice of stating what he wants to say? Why should they have all of their rights taken away and their decisions finalized by people who give no thought to the possibility that maybe they have an opinion on the matter? Since when did respect became so cheap? According to their belief, anybody younger than them should listen to, agree with and fetch them anything they wish. Absolute submission would be a good term to describe it.
Moreover, if they dare fail to comply, they are immediately labeled completely devoid of manners. In worst case scenarios, they might even have to face consequences! Further discussion and standing up for yourself, if you’re audacious enough, would only be the same as digging your own grave. The seniors have every right to inequitably assert their dominance on you, after all.
In case some of you have gotten astray and are getting wrong ideas, allow me to clarify this once again. Although submission of your life and soul to a person doesn’t signify respect, courtesy does. Common courtesy is something that should be offered to each and every individual. This includes considering the valuable opinion an elder has to offer because after all it is said and done, they are still more experienced than you are and in most cases know how to deal with situations. Respect however, is something that should be earned. To gain it and to give it out go hand in hand. In other words, in order to BE respected, you should be prepared TO respect. If you happen to be someone who expects to be worshiped and bowed down to based on your age, wealth and/or power, know that I have none to offer.