Originally posted 1/31/07
Whatever happened to respect? When I was a kid, children called their elders Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so. They were polite and said please and thank you and "may I?" I was mortified this past Sunday at church when my 7-year-old daughter called an elderly man by his first name, something I would never deign to do. When I whispered to her, "How about 'Mr. Robinson?'" she just shrugged. I have noticed that this is quite common with today's children. I was taking a walk one day and a small girl was playing jump rope in her front yard. She asked me what my name was as I walked by and I said, "Mrs. Anderson." I was in my early 20's. She then asked me, "Are you a teacher?" I replied that I was not. She asked why then I was a Mrs. I explained that it was because I was married. She could not grasp that concept.
I think part of the problem is our fear of aging. When we are shown respect and called by our title and surname, we feel old. We think of those people we addressed the same way when we were young and think of how old we thought they were at the time. So to feel like we are still young, we don't want to be called that way. Parents are no longer called Mr. and Mrs. Smith by their children's friends, they are Tom and Sue. Or even Dad and Mom. I think that one comes from children's innate aversion to calling adults so casually, and their discomfort with calling them so formally. So they choose intimate names instead and often afford the friend's parents more respect than their own parents.
The same change has occurred in the workplace. The boss is no longer Mr. Lucier, he is Rick, or even Ricky. I cringe when I hear grown people called by diminutive nicknames. How much more disrespectful can one get? Not only does it fail to acknowledge that the person has reached adulthood, it also fails to acknowledge that they have even reached puberty. I suppose I can understand a person's reluctance to call a supervisor by their surname if the supervisor is younger than they, but people in positions of authority deserve respect no matter their age.
So here I was, mortified at my daughter calling a 70+ year old man by his given name, and wondering how it happened. I thought and I thought. How did my daughter come to be so disrespectful? It is because our society shuns respect, which is ironic considering how much we seem to demand it. It is very frustrating to introduce your child to someone and say, "Moira, this is Mrs. Johnson," just to have the new neighbor say, "Please, call me Sally." It is also extremely difficult when people don't introduce themselves with last names. I don't know the last names of most of my neighbors. When my daughter tells me she met a new neighbor, I have no way of knowing whether that person is a child, teenager, or adult. I really have no support in today's world in teaching my child respect, and everyone we meet seems to unconsciously try to sabotage all my efforts to teach it. It is very frustrating. Is it okay to say, "Please, Ma'am, I am trying to teach my child to respect adults. I am not trying to make you uncomfortable?"
2 years ago