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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Developing Respect

Ignoring a child’s disrespect is the surest guarantee that it will continue. – Fred G. Gosman

The Brits are having a terrible time with their youth; gang violence, vandalism and the general terrorizing of citizens. Social research shows this problem has been many years in the making and until a few years ago, the behavior was more than a nuisance, however less than criminal, and therefore very difficult for anyone to stop. The police could not stop the behavior for many of the same reasons our legal system is limited and if the victim tried to stop the youths, especially by physical means, then the police would be forced to arrest the victim. Now the behavior is very violent, more than minor crime, but very difficult to deal with because of sheer numbers of youths involved.

The Brits current difficulty is largely the product of the eroding of societal values and morays; specifically, a healthy respect for others as a whole and authority figures in particular. I use our friends’ plight across the pond as a parallel to our own. I was explicitly asked to write about developing respect by several adults in our community that see a lack of respect in our children. A couple of them are people that work in local schools, or with youth groups; however, I was most persuaded by the folks that provided anecdotal evidence from their daily lives such as in a checkout line or in a movie theatre.

I offer the following as what each of us can do to stem the tide of disrespect many see all around us:
- Make it a point to be respectful of everyone you meet regardless of age or position in life. You cannot reasonably expect respect unless you willingly give it first.
- Insist you are treated with respect by others. If you are not treated with respect, then POLITELY inform the other person you do not appreciate being treated poorly and you kindly ask them to treat you in a respectful manner.
- As with any desired behavior, start as young as possible. Insist children speak to adults using their proper title, even if that title is merely Mr/Mrs/Ms; as this practice consistently reinforces society has a hierarchy, and who is in charge in the relationship. If you are an adult, let’s say over 30, don’t try to be “cool”, “hip”, “fresh” or anything else; take on the role time has so unfairly given you, and help the rest of us by holding youth accountable to societal standards.
- In a similar vein, insist they use Ma’am and Sir to you and to other adults for the same reason above. The use of Sir and Ma’am is a big reason the South has always been considered the most polite region in the US; however, as more people than can be culturally assimilated have moved into the region, they are slowly getting away from this practice, and it has begun to have a negative effect on their youth.
- Last, help the children you are around develop self respect; without self respect it is very difficult to have respect for others. Encourage them in dress and habits to show respect for themselves and others. If you are a parent, fashion and haircut choices should be made with an eye toward the adult you would like them to become; just because school dress codes are non-existent, too loose, or not enforced, does not preclude your parental privilege in mandating your child’s dress.

Respect for others is not an optional attribute in a functioning society, especially as population densities rise. The only way children will learn respect for themselves and others, is if we as adults, teach them respect, hold them accountable to their behavior, and model respect to them and each other.

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