Let me be as clear as possible straight from the start:
I don’t owe anyone respect.
It may stem from our ‘everybody wins’ culture that has been developing over the past thirty years. It is a hideous trend that has created a spider’s web of consequences. Today I will address one of those consequences: the idea that people, especially young people, are somehow owed respect by those around them, even if they are strangers. These people should be disabused of that notion immediately and by the strongest possible means. Granted this is mostly their parents’ fault, it comes along with the feeling of entitlement–that one is owed something by society or the world. That is not the case. In case there is any confusion, let me say it again.
I don’t owe anyone respect.
Does that mean that I respect no one? Not at all. Here’s the difference. The people I do respect earned it, through their thoughts and ideas, conversations and writing, beliefs and actions, which is the ground work for building respect, indeed becoming respectable.
So what does one owe their fellow inhabitants of this time and place? Courtesy.
It used to be called common courtesy but, like common sense, it has become an endangered species. Courtesy is very simple to perform, in fact, if you do it often enough, you don’t really need to think about it; out of habit, you simply do it (that is where the ‘common’ part comes into play), and there are hundreds of different ways to express it. To name a couple of examples, every time I walk through a door, I glance behind me to see if some one else is there. If there is I make sure, at the very least, to hold it until they get there. How often has someone two steps ahead of you simply let the door close? Other times, I will stand and hold it open for them. I have, a few times at restaurants, wound up holding the door for quite a number of people, both entering and leaving. Does it mean that those people going in will be seated before me? So what if they are. Before the elevator doors shut I look to see if someone is trying to catch it. Likewise people running for the bus the driver may not see. If I walk in front of someone at the store, I will say ‘excuse me’ (I never say ‘pardon me’ because that is the governor’s province). If someone else says ‘excuse me,’ I will repeat it because that is the courteous thing to do.
I don’t have to know, care about or respect the person to whom I am courteous. Think of it this way, courtesy is the grease that lubricates the grinding wheels of civilization, society. Without it, the mechanism grinds to a halt. I think that is what is happening in our country, in our politics, in our society.
I think it was the move away from engaging in courtesy to expecting respect that has helped set the tenor we now see around the country. It took us a long time to get to to the point we are at today, and I imagine it will take us a long time to leave it behind us. My uneducated guess is about a decade before we see the pendulum swinging back. Cheery thought, isn’t it? The only thing I can say is just try, especially when you are in a hurry or fed up, just try to remember courtesy.