Respect Starts with You and Me

I’ve been thinking about the state of the world right now.

After this most recent school shooting, there has been a lot of talk about how there is a lack of respect for life (or even just lack of respect in general) among our young people today.  I agree with that assessment.  But if there is a lack of respect among young people, then we adults are largely to blame.

Children are not born knowing disrespect or intolerance.  They don’t look at people who are different and think, “Uh oh, that person must be bad or wrong.”  Young children simply don’t have that capacity.  Young children generally tend to accept everyone without judgment.  Do they sometimes learn disrespect or intolerance from other children?  Absolutely.  But those other children had to learn it from somewhere, and an adult is the most likely source.

Sometimes disrespect and intolerance start small with something we think doesn’t matter.  Have you ever seen someone in a shirt for a rival school or sports team?  Have you ever found yourself saying, “Oh, I’m sorry!” to that person, even if you were joking?  That is disrespectful.  We think it’s okay because it is an established rivalry, and that’s just what we do.  We totally ignore the fact that that the other person might think it’s rude.  And honestly, if you don’t know that person as a friend, then it is rude.

We show disrespect and intolerance in the things we say about lots of “others” in society.  Maybe you dislike black people because they all want to remind us that American society owes them for centuries of slavery.  Maybe you dislike anyone who even looks Hispanic because they are probably here illegally.  Maybe you dislike anyone who looks Middle Eastern because they are probably Islamic terrorists.  Maybe you dislike people who look Asian because they take all of our good jobs and don’t speak English very well.

Maybe you dislike young people because they expect to have the world handed to them.  Maybe you dislike people on Welfare or Medicaid because they are leaching off the system.  Maybe you dislike people with mental health issues who are on disability because they should just suck it up and deal with their problems.

Maybe you dislike the LGBT community because they are immoral and the Bible tells us their lifestyle is wrong.  Maybe you dislike people who support abortion because they are murderers.  Maybe you dislike people who support the NRA because they sells guns that may end up killing people.  Maybe you dislike people who dislike guns because they are naïve and want to take away all of your guns.

Maybe you dislike the Republicans or Democrats and think that they are wrong and probably inherently evil.  Maybe you dislike liberals for wanting everyone to have rights you don’t think they deserve.  Maybe you dislike conservatives for wanting to withhold rights that you think they all deserve.  Maybe you hate the current president and think anyone who supports him is a conspiracy theorist.  Maybe you love the current president and think that anyone who doesn’t is a conspiracy theorist.

If you have ever said any of these things out loud in front of your children, then you are contributing to the societal problem of disrespect.  If you and the people in your house have conversations about these things during which you are openly disparaging anyone you disagree with, then you are contributing to the problem.  If you watch Fox News or CNN in the presence of your children, then you are contributing to the problem.

You are free to have your opinions.  You are free to discuss your opinions, especially in the safety of your own home.  But you need to realize that all of these intolerant opinions feed disrespect in children and teenagers.

Look, I’m just as guilty about being disrespectful in front of my children as the next person.  Michael and I make a concerted effort to not say things that they shouldn’t hear, but when we do, we try to make sure our girls know that whoever we have an issue with is not a bad person.  I accept my responsibility in this issue.  And that’s the thing.  We each need to be willing to accept responsibility and admit that we contribute to society’s general lack of respect.  We are all guilty in our own way.

What are you going to do to help the next generation be more respectful and tolerant?  Lives may be counting on it.