Cultural differences

Respecting one’s elders or those older than oneself, used to be the mark of good upbringing in my country. Sadly now, an increasing number of the younger generation don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word. WHAT happened, WHERE did we go wrong and HOW did we get here?

An incident from my childhood springs to mind of a neighbour’s daughter (approx 5 years older than me), insisting that I call her ‘Sister Blah blah blah‘, (nothing to do with the nunnery, just a mark of respect to someone slightly older or Aunty Blah blah blah for someone much older). I was very upset and couldn’t understand what the big fuss was all about. Sadly, I succumbed (being very young) but vowed I would never enforce the same on younger ones when and if the time came. The time did arrive and some aunties insisted that my younger siblings call me ‘Sister Blah blah blah’! I immediately declined vehemently but little did I know that I would one day demand same.

While living abroad, I came to understand that respect is earned, not enforced. It has nothing to do with age, wealth, position or marital status. I also discovered that even when one is called by their first name, the way and manner in which the name is called can be a sign of respect or disrespect. This reinforced my thinking.

A rude awakening…
Back in my homeland twenty years later, I am astounded to discover that a large number of children no longer consider it fit to greet adults, not even a simple ‘hello’! The so-called ‘young adults’ are worse: they speak to you disrespectfully and call out your name as if talking to their mates. Am I being difficult or showing my age? Maybe, but I believe that the display of good manners is a lifestyle, not a fad. Of course my ‘single‘ marital status and the fact that I look much younger than my years, doesn’t help. It seems to me that in a bid to become westernised and to compensate for not spending time with the kids (24/7 work life), a significant proportion of my generation are bringing up ill-mannered kids!

The result?
I now insist on being called Sister Blah blah blah, Aunty Blah blah blah or Ms Blah blah blah. Though it doesn’t ensure respect, it creates a virtual distance in the relationship, which keeps the interaction at arm’s length. My reasoning: where there is no familiarity, contempt is kept at bay. This is hard work and quite taxing because one has to operate in a certain mode at all times, which can come across as hard-nosed. Interestingly though, if I were married or had kids, the response from this segment of society would be positively different. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the hierarchy of respect in the society is:

  1. married men
  2. single men
  3. married women
  4. single women

I am open to exploring alternative ways of managing these kids and would like to hear your views or suggestions.