9.20.2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There are very few rocks in the US under which one can hide and not know who Rep. Joe Wilson is or why he is suddenly a household name. Or, for a similar reason, Kanye West. These two people recently made national headlines and became the butt of jokes in places ranging from political websites and blogs to tonight's Emmy Awards. That reason is because they were rude in a highly-visible manner, which raises the question: what has happened to respect?

I've found Facebook to be not only a social networking site, but also a forum for people to express their political beliefs and get into debates and arguments over said beliefs. I've watched people "defriend" each other over what, in the grand scheme of life, are trivial matters. Given the "discussions" being held on FB leading up to President Obama's Congressional Address, I anticipated a great deal of post-speech backlash from some of my very conservative friends. Surprisingly, there was essentially none. What I did find surprising was how many people defended Rep. Wilson and his now-famous "You lie."

They weren't defending him because he represented their political stand on the issue at hand. They defended him for exercising his First Amendment Right (free speech) and for "calling out the liar." Nevermind Rep. Wilson was actually wrong -- the bill before the House says, in all capital letters, that there will be no funding for undocumented immigrants. The matter that offended so many was that he chose to yell out DURING A SPEECH given by the President of the United States. Yelling during a football or baseball game? Normal! Expected! Yelling during a rally? Encouraged! Shouting out during an internationally televised address in front of a group of people governed by "Roberts Rules of Order?" Inexcusable.

One friend of mine and I got into a discussion about this when I either "liked" or commented on her status which essentially questioned where manners have gone in this country. Another of her friends joined in with comments that disturbed me on many levels. The overall synthesis of her comments were "only give respect to those who have earned it." From one angle, I can understand her point. But, we are talking about The President Of The United States. Whether or not you voted for him (or her), whether or not you agree with their policies or positions, they deserve the respect the office demands. If you dislike them for whatever reason, our forefathers had the vision to put into place procedures for 1) balancing said President's policies through other politicians and 2) ways to remove/replace said President.

When I was growing up, which really wasn't all that long ago, I was taught that certain people were to be shown respect. This included people in authority positions, such as teachers, policemen, clergy, etc., as well as those of an older generation. Those of my parent's generation or older I was taught to address as "Mr." or "Mrs." and NEVER by their first name. This carried through all my student years, and to this day I still have a problem addressing former teachers, whom I am now "equal" to, if not having surpassed in some ways professionally, by their first names even though they've encouraged it. It is because I respect them and the place they've had in my life.

This friend-of-a-friend aforementioned said essentially that she only gives respect to those who have earned it. What kind of example does this set for our children? Test everyone to see if they "deserve" your respect? Does she go into her child's classroom(s) at the beginning of a school year and determine if her child/ren should respect the teacher? What about the cop who pulls her over for a traffic violation? Is the ticket any different if she respects the cop or not? Did she bother to "earn" her children's respect, or did she simply expect it because she's the mom? What if her children decided that she hadn't earned their respect, and started treating her the way she apparently thinks it is ok to treat other people in positions of authority or offices traditionally demanding respect? Somehow I don't think that decision would be met with open arms and encouraged to prosper.

I currently work as a substitute teacher, and many of the teachers I fill in for work in a district that is on "the wrong side of the tracks." More and more I see a lack of parental involvement at home affecting how students learn. I walk into classrooms where teachers have to be both parent and instructor, teaching children how to behave in the most common of situations. Now I was never a troublemaker in school, and given I was in "accelerated" courses the vast majority of my colleagues were also well-behaved. Every class I go in to, I wonder what kind of battle I might have to fight for respect and it seems a disproportionate number of kids these days are troublemakers. Last week I subbed 4th grade. There were 17 students in the class and 5 of them were problem children, students known throughout the school. That's almost 30% of the class, and you can bet that one student acting up affected the learning of every student around him negatively. These students believe they can get away with talking back to teachers and other misbehavior because they get away with it at home or in other situations monitored by their parents. I'd hate to think they'd go home with their note from the principal about how bad their behavior was, and have their parent say, "that teacher hasn't earned my child's respect."

I saw an online article about a restaurant employee who was fired for putting on someone's bill a non-charge for dealing with "the little f*cker." In this case, the object of the waiter's wrath was a smaller child (I think 5, maybe) who was, according to the parents, "a little fussy and cranky." Now I don't condone putting profanity on someone's check like that (and I wonder how the computer even allowed it to go on there) but I've been in more than one restaurant wherein children have been allowed to yell, scream, run around, throw food, and get in the way of the overworked & underpaid waitstaff while the parents non-chalantly enjoyed their dinner, oblivious to the death looks from the diners around them. For once I was pleased to see the myriad of comments to the article coming from parents SUPPORTING the waiter and shunning the excuses of the parents. When I was that age, the instant I was out-of-line, I was also taken outside and dealt with. These days, parents believe the psycho-babble that too many rules stifle a child's creativity. Yeah, all those rules I grew up with have obviously prevented me from becoming a successful musician & performer. Ha.

Today President Obama did a media blitz wherein every interview he gave he made some mention about how the media glorifies those who are rude and limits those who are polite to little air time. I applaude our president for saying it, and I agree with him. Even if parents are teaching respect, how easily is that message undermined by the enormous amount of fame given people being rude on the nightly news? Or online?

It is a parent's responsibility to raise their child in a way that would make them and their ancestors proud. We do it both through the rules we establish for our children, and the examples we set in our own lives. So what message are you sending your child today?