In January 2016 I began a series that I was intending to publish as a book but since it has been languishing… I have decided to re-run since it is three years since it was last posted.
The title came about as I dipped into a Thesaurus to find some words for a poem I was writing. I noticed that a great many words that reflected (see what I mean) key elements in our lives began with the letter ‘R’. In the original series there was an introduction, but I am skipping that to dive straight into what I believe is becoming extinct in many areas of our world and our own lives…..
The posts are a bit longer than the average.. so I hope you have a cup of tea handy!
The R’s of Life – Respect.
It is always so easy to criticise and I don’t want these observations on the aspects of life that I have experienced to be completely negative. However, there are some human traits that seem to be devolving rather than evolving and I don’t believe it is a trend we want to continue.
In this post I am going to explore the very thorny subject of respect. This is a topic that needs to be divided into two areas to do it justice. It is one of the fundamental survival tools we have at our disposal and sadly does not receive the prominence it deserves in the headlines.
Self-respect has to come first, as without that basic component, we are unlikely to succeed in life in a way that is acceptable to those close to us, and those we meet along the way.
It should not be confused with self-esteem. This is a value that we adopt and then present to the world in varying degrees. It is interesting that you hear the expression ‘low self-esteem‘ frequently and there are many specialists who are happy to help you raise that to an approved level. It is quite strange to me that anyone considered to have overstepped that approval level is treated quite harshly and labelled arrogant or full of themselves! It seems that the press and the public rather like to see people who have achieved something out of the ordinary be knocked off their pedestal!
One way to reach a healthy and productive level of self-esteem is to first establish your self-respect which is a process that begins the moment you are born.
We arrive in this world as wildlings and continue to scream and demand food and attention during the first few years. If we are lucky, and in an ideal world, we have parents who guide us into a more civilised mode of behaviour. Slowly but surely we learn the accepted social graces that enable us to exist side by side with others. This includes courtesy, respect for others and the ability to co-exist peacefully with them.
Following on from these initial efforts, we are then handed off to teachers and schooled in the various subjects we need to become productive in our adulthood. We should at this stage be learning how to work and play with others in harmony and developing the skills we will need for the workplace.
This grounding in social interaction creates clear boundaries about what is acceptable and not acceptable if we are to co-exist with our fellow man. It includes the fundamentals such as not lying, stealing and doing physical harm and how to communicate effectively. This creates in all of us, a basic blueprint that will evolve as we develop more social skills, and also lays the foundation for our self-respect. This is also reinforced for millions around the world who follow religious teachings that promote harmony and peace.
You will note that I said in an ideal world.
There are some wonderful kids out there who unfortunately never get publicly applauded for their great behaviour. However, if you read the papers in print and online, or watch both drama and factual programmes on the television, it is the wildlings who seem to be in charge of the planet. It would appear that anything goes and I would suggest that for most it is more a case of self-disrespect.
It is easy to say…. ‘Live and Let Live’...to laugh at their antics or dismiss them as wannabes who will be here today and gone tomorrow. However, we should not understimate their influence on those who have yet to learn self-respect. These ‘celebrities’ have millions of followers, mostly young teenagers, who are obsessed with every naked selfie, child named for the place it was conceived, drunken departure from a restaurant or serial relationship played out in public. In the popular media there is a distinct lack of exemplary role models who are successful, happy and living productive lives. Even the idols of the sports world are more likely to be photographed off the pitch or track behaving badly.
If this type of behaviour was just restricted to these ‘celebrities’ then you might be able to dismiss as stuff and nonsense.. but the headlines these days seem to be filled with stories of non-celebrities doing exactly the same thing. Petty crime, violent assaults, thugs on mopeds, drunken young people defacing memorials, corruption in charities, businesses and in national organisations.
There is very little balance, as the millions of young people who are doing work in the community, studying hard, showing courtesy to family and those they meet, are given virtually no publicity at all.
There are also great parents who make every effort to teach their children self-respect. However, our education system seems to be failing in its role in this important aspect of our behaviour through the following critical twelve or so years. Overcrowding, discipline issues and constant changes to the way children are being taught are having an impact. Far too many young people are leaving education unable to read or write adequately and devastatingly unprepared to enter a more technical modern workforce. It is not surprising that for those kids, respect for themselves is non-existent.
This brings me to the knock on effect of lack of self-respect. If you do not care who you are or what you do,then why would you respect anyone else? You are more likely to envy, resent and even feel violent towards others, especially if they appear to have everything that you do not. Of course many individuals will see this as an opportunity to emulate those who are living successfully, but these are few, and it is resulting in a change in our culture that is not very attractive.
I am not going to cover every area where respect is becoming diluted in society but here are just one or two examples where lack of respect is severely damaging the fabric of our culture.
Respect for our elders is on the slippery slope. The tone of articles about their long-term care is accusatory with the emphasis on the burden that these ‘old’ people are going to place on our future. It is conveniently forgotten that many of those in their 80s and 90s, who served in the armed forces, played a part in securing the freedom we have today. The fact that many families have their elderly relatives living with them as a much loved extended family member, or care for them in their own homes at no cost to the government, is brushed aside. It is also forgotten that those elderly people who worked all their lives until retirement, paid into the welfare system, and are actually more entitled to benefits than those who have never contributed time or funds.
It is also interesting that in the UK we have 80,000 + prisoners who have been found guilty by a jury of their peers and incarcerated as a punishment. Only a very small percentage do not have a television in their cells. All are provided with three hot meals a day, free medical and dental care and are allowed religious freedom and are accorded full human rights. At a cost of £40,000 + per year each. On the other hand it is estimated that over 2 million pensioners in the UK are trying to exist on around £6,000 per year.
Of course there are some great projects that are aimed at providing the elderly members of our society a rich and safe environment. In fact I was very impressed to hear about an innovative programme. A nursery school was integrated with an old people’s home and all of the participants had a fantastic time. The physical, mental and emotional benefits were amazing. You only had to look at the faces of the older participants and their young companions to see how well this would work if rolled out across our elderly care system. It was also clear that it is an excellent way to develop both self-respect in the young and mutual respect for all. Posted by U-vib I
This brings me on to the subject of respect for others in general. I have often written posts on the subject of courtesy and how I feel that it is the oil that greases society. On my recent travels I decided to count the number of times I heard the three very simple words that convey respect. Please and Thank You.
It was dire…. especially in cafes and restaurants where orders were issued abruptly and food accepted without acknowledgement when delivered by the waiting staff, who might as well have been invisible. I held doors open for people and they brushed passed without any acknowledgement and I stood there for five minutes to see if it was just down to a handful of individuals. An Indian gentleman was the only one to offer thanks out of around two dozen fellow travellers who pushed through the doors. On the plane as we unbuckled our seat belts and I got up to retrieve my jacket from the overhead, a young man shoved up against me, grabbed his carry on luggage and dragged it down barely missing my head in the process. I turned and asked him what he thought he was doing; he told me to ‘F’ off.
This lack of courtesy in our everyday lives is mirrored in the films, television dramas and reality shows that pour into our living rooms 24 hours per day. I have no objection to appropriate sexual content within the context of a story, but it seems that many films and television shows feel that we should have our senses assaulted from the opening credits. Violence and sex scenes are graphic and very little is left up to our imaginations. Lack of respect for those who are considered weak or virtuous seems to be inbuilt into scripts. I love a good movie or drama but more and more I am turning to the retro offerings from a time when the hero asks politely for his cup of coffee…
This brings me to one of the other key areas where respect seems to be in decline. Our regard for those in authority or public services. This includes teachers, the police, the health services and the government.
One of the problems with maintaining our respect for these particular institutions is again the constant and relentless media headlines that highlight their weaknesses. Recently there have been a number of stories of teachers who have been dismissed due to their inappropriate sexual activities. The police have been in the headlines because several senior officers have been caught in compromising circumstances with others or have been found corrupt. The government has been hauled through the mud continually for years, usually focusing on the individual politicians and their personal transgressions.
I know for a fact that there are some fabulous schools and teachers that work very hard to give their pupils a fantastic education and help them develop self-respect and a respectful attitude. There are policemen and women who protect and serve their communities and who put their lives on the line many times as they try to keep the lid on the criminal elements. The NHS in the UK and health services around the world are constantly in the papers with reports of negligence, poor management and strikes. But there are also hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to save lives daily who never get recognition.
And of course, worldwide, there is also the great punching bag which is the institution of government. Yes, it may be over inflated with people who should never been elected (by us) and who feel entitled to do whatever they wish; of course the press is always on hand to capture the moment. But, there is little coverage of some of the initiatives and laws that have been put in place that has made a difference to millions of lives. Not everyone in the world is lucky enough to have a welfare state or socialised medicine, but it seems that even when we have that great gift, we still find far too many things to moan about.
There is responsible reporting and investigative journalism in the media, but even the so called established leading publications are not above sensationalising events; they know that bad news sells. In fact if you go online to any of the national newspapers you will find email addresses and telephone numbers where you can provide details of your stories. Many of the ‘show and tell’ reports are from the general public, in the right place at the right time with a camera on their phone!.
There are simply not enough journalists to cover all the events going on in our world so much of the reporting is done by us. And it would seem either the good news stories we share with the press are ignored, or we only offer up the darker side of life in the knowledge that it will feed the need for negativity.
So that brings us back full circle. To self-respect. Because we are the ones not only contributing the stories but also buying the papers, going online to read the latest scandal and fuelling the trends in the press and on social media. It is our insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip and love of seeing someone brought down that creates the need for this type of reporting.
If we really want to change the direction our culture appears to be heading then we need to take more responsibility for our contribution to its decline.
I know what it is like to come from a large family with all that is entailed in keeping children clean, clothed and fed. It is exhausting especially when two parents are working, but I do believe that part of the responsibility of parenthood is preparing children for a life when they will leave the safety of the family home. If they do not learn the basics of respect and courtesy at an early age it will not automatically kick in at school or later in life. Those first few years are critical.
If possible we need to take more of a role in their education as trustees and governors and also in voluntary programmes after school. We should involve ourselves in our health services by taking part in many of the public inquiries and projects and again time permitting, perhaps volunteer. For example as an elderly or patient advocate.
There are many voluntary projects that involve reading and writing. What a gift, we as writers, could give to someone who cannot do either. It does not matter how small the project is, as making a difference to just one person, boosting their self-respect and confidence will have a knock on effect.
I believe we also need to examine our own values as to what is acceptable as a member of our society. Are we as writers fuelling the obsession with sensationalism, or is there a way that in our books and blogs we can showcase the positive events and news in our own local environment. Sharing good news across our networks instead of retweeting the negative stories would be a good start.
Of course this does not mean we should not comment or write about negative aspects of our society that need to be brought to public notice. But we do need to consider how we share it and how we can offer solutions that would redress the problem rather than just through it out there to gather even more negative responses.
There are millions of us now on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+. That is a huge platform for change and to reinforce the positive aspects of both self-respect and respect for others.
It is all out there, we just need to find it ,celebrate it and send it viral.
©Sally Cronin 2019
Thank you for taking the time to read the post and I am sure that you have your own views about this small world ‘respect’ that carries so much weight in our modern world. Thanks Sally.