This post was originally published in October of 2011.
Respect your elders!
We’ve all heard this.
But why should anyone be afforded more (or less) respect because of something as out of our control as the date and time we entered this world?
If I told you Bob is 60 years old and Susanna is 15 could you tell me which one of these people is kinder? more compassionate? wiser? more loving?
Yes, sometimes people do grow wiser with age but it isn’t an automatic process.
I’ve known “Bobs” (both male and female) who lived the same year over and over again, never applying lessons learned from one day to the next. There have also been “Susannas” who tumble out of childhood with more wisdom and common sense than most people three or four times their age.
Drew and I spent a week visiting my parents and siblings a few summers ago when our nephew, Aiden, was a toddler. At the end of the visit I asked for a hug. He said no. Our last visit had been when Aiden was an infant and it was completely understandable that he’d be a little shy. These things happen when families are geographically scattered.
I also couldn’t imagine pushing this issue simply because I happened to be a couple of decades older. Being a child doesn’t mean that one has to do everything adults want. Yes, there are times when Aiden’s parents made and make decisions that he isn’t developmentally ready to take responsibility for yet but even a toddler is still his or her own person.
And a funny thing happened a few minutes later: he leaned over and gave me a hug after all.
…is for everyone: the Prime Minister, the homeless person sitting on the corner, your 88 year old grandmother and your two year old son or daughter all deserve a basic level of respect simply because they are fellow human beings.
It makes no sense to withhold this basic respect (or dribble out more of it) based on how old someone is or what has happened in their life so far.
…is earned. But, yes, respect is also something we can earn more of based on what we do and how we treat others.
Someone who is courteous, kind and generous is almost always going to be more respected and well-liked by those around them than someone who who is rude, selfish and cruel.
…cannot be demanded. In fact, demanding that someone respect you (outside of a rare handful of situations) is one of the fastest ways to lose it. It would be like walking up to a significant other, close family member or friend and saying, “I demand that you love me!”
Whatever emotions or behaviours that are dredged up may give the appearance of love or respect but you can never attract the real thing through force.
Am I saying that we should disrespect our elders?
But don’t let something as out of our control as age determine who deserves your respect.