Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I heard the adults around me repeat, “Respect your elders!” over and over again. Naturally, I believed this to be true and continued to respect all my elders — teachers, old aunts and uncles, or distant relatives. I was the well-behaved girl who never back-answered and who always gave into the demands of the adults around me. I was the girl who would greet every adult at the party and converse with them, even if I didn’t want to. But things changed as I grew older.
I realized the respect they demanded from me was not a suggestion or a choice; it was an order. I was forced to respect my elders even if they offended me or were rude to me. I was forced to oversee their faults and their mistakes because they were older than I. I was forced to respect my elders even when they didn’t respect me.
I distinctly remember this one occasion where an adult insulted my cousin and passed rude comments about the way she was dressed. They kept harassing her, bringing her down, and shattering her self-esteem. But she never said anything because it was disrespectful to talk back to your elders. She stood there in silence, saying nothing and doing nothing.
We etch this saying into the impressionable minds of children, making them victims of backhanded compliments and blatant insults. We turn these children into cowards, not giving them a chance to stand up for themselves or defend themselves in such situations. We change the meaning of respect in their head to fear.
Respect, according to me, is a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, and important. It’s a positive feeling we experience when we see someone do something admirable or accomplish something that inspires us. That is the true meaning of respect.
When children are forced to respect elders, they grow into people who believe everything an adult tells them. In their heads, respect translates to blind obedience. They fail to distinguish the difference between good and bad or right and wrong.
I’m not saying we should teach children to disrespect or disregard adults. I’m not saying we should teach children to disobey their parents or authoritative figures.
I’m saying we should teach them to respect people who respect them, not just elders. We should teach them to respect everyone, young or old, as long they reciprocate the same.