Saturday, October 3, 2015

Filial Impiety

Hats off to Danielle Larkins for calling attention to the new American custom: filial impiety. While Asian cultures teach the young to respect their elders, Americans, Larkin explains, are increasingly comfortable with young people who disrespect their elders.

If you were wondering why Johnny cannot learn, why Janey misbehaves and why no one seems capable of taking advice, here’s a place to start. In the new filial impiety children are allowed to address adults by their first names.

I have no problem calling it a symptom of cultural decline. It didn’t used to be this way. Larkins recalls a time, not all that long ago when things were different:

I was 13 when I thought it would be fun to call my 8th grade teacher by her first name. More out of boredom than disrespect, my normally good judgment lapsed and I acted out by responding to her, “Yes, Nancy.” I was promptly sent to the principal’s office, and I didn’t think it was so fun after that. I hung my head in shame and dreaded the reprimanding to come. My parents were informed of the incident and were certain to correct my misbehavior. “You will never address an adult by her first name, do you understand? Never.”

My, how things have changed:

Today, however, this so-called misbehavior is marginalized. Calling adults by their first name has become the cultural norm in households, neighborhoods, and even schools. In most circles I am introduced to children as Ms. Danielle. What ever happened to Mrs. Larkins? Did my last name escape my womb along with my child? Is this a regional phenomenon? Maybe it’s his Midwestern sensibilities, but my husband has taken notice of this trend as well.  And we find ourselves in the minority as we wonder how addressing an adult by his or her last name has become a thing of the past.

For what it’s worth, and it may not be worth very much, female physicians, especially those who work with children and adolescents often present themselves with their titles and first names: Dr. Stephanie. One suspects that, in some quarters, it represents a rebellion against patronymic surnames.

Larkins says that she is not being judgmental, but, what the heck, perhaps we ought to be judgmental. If I may read into her remarks, she is implying that the mania over self-esteem, the notion that you are just as good if not better than everyone else, has produced a custom that systematically disrespects those who are older, more experienced and presumably wiser.

Larkins writes:

I’m not judging other parents for how they raise their children, despite my disagreement on this topic. I just don’t understand why the tradition stopped. Has our culture lost its respect for its elders?  Have we just become a more informal society? Or maybe our desire to elevate our kids’ self worth has gone overboard, and we don’t want our kids to feel they are “beneath” anyone else. When I’ve asked other parents why they don’t teach their children to address adults by their surname they seem uncertain – as if it is the first time they’ve thought about it. My guess is that they succumb to the rationale that “everyone else is doing it so I will too.”

People who would be horrified at the thought that they are conformists are happily and unthinkingly conforming to this new assertion of radical individuality.

Larkins will not say that this habit contributes to youth misbehavior, but I will. She is correct to say that this custom establishes a relationship of disrespect. One must add that it disestablishes deference, and says that no one knows more than you and that no one deserves to be respected for as much. One can only wonder what happens when these children go out in the world and speak to their managers with this level of disrespect?

In Larkins’ words:

I’m not saying that addressing an adult by his or her surname is the reason for American youth misbehavior. I also understand that adults earn respect through their actions, not by their title. I do believe, however, that this simple step is the first action a child can take in establishing a respectful relationship. And maybe, just maybe, it serves a greater good than just upholding an old school tradition. Perhaps this etiquette provides a conscious (and subconscious) appreciation for our elders who are deserving of our acknowledgement and our respect.

How are children to learn anything if they fail to respect those who might teach them something? How are children going to build character if they refuse to emulate those who set an example of better character?

If you are taught, by common custom, to disrespect those older and wiser than you, you are saying that you know everything that is worth knowing, that you are just as smart as those who have earned their wisdom by hard work.

Have we fallen into this bad habit because we believe that we are fighting inequality? Did we fall into it because we have come to believe that we can change reality by changing the way we use pronouns and proper names? I suspect that both are correct. It feels like we have gone completely off the cultural rails.

What’s next? Banning Mommy and Daddy because they are sexist terms which imply patriarchal privilege?


priss rules said...

This could partly be the result of English not having formal and informal pronouns.

In French, Spanish, Russian, German, Japanese, and etc. you use different forms for different people. Usted and tu, for example.

But there is only YOU in English.

There is also the preponderance of pop culture that not only puts youth at the center but keeps people 'forever young'. Especially beginning with the Boomer generation, there was the conceit of being Woodstock Nation forever. So, even when boomers became adults, they wanted to talk like kids and be treated like kids and be cool with the kids.

Also, there was the loss of respect of the older generation with the Vietnam War and Watergate and all that. Of course, Clinton and his boomer generation didn't do much to foster respect for adults as well.

But in a way, what seems like empowerment of youth is also a kind of sly manipulation of youth. Entertainment industry, media, and academia are controlled by older people, and one way they can more easily manipulate young people is to feel like they are part of what is happening. So, even though older people continue to manipulate younger people, younger people think they are making the decisions since they get to be on first name basis. But look at today's kids, and they are the biggest prisoners of Political Correctness peddled by boomer elders.

Though America has gone too far toward informality, there is a certain advantage to the American way. In the Far East, the talented and original among the young too often hold back their inspiration and genius out of deference to older people and hierarchy. Thus, fewer young people with great vision come to the fore and make a difference. If Zuckerberg were Chinese, he might have kept his head low and tried to work for another company and slow rise up than try to build his own company from the getgo. (Though modern Asian society may be less rebellious, it isn't necessarily deferential either. It seems that in places like Japan, older people do their own thing and younger people do their own thing, and there is very little communication.)

So, informality and individualism may do wonders for the talented young. But for the masses of dummies, it just makes them more crude and rude.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

Myself, I'm also old enough that I was taught to never called your teachers, or parents, or other kids parents by their first name. I never thought of it as a matter of respect, just accepting we were not equals, and they had authority over me, and I didn't have any interest in challenging that authority, and it actually felt safer, since you know adults will take charge when you ask for help, so its a two way street.

On another side, I was never in the military, and I admit I'd probably have had a steep learning curve to pay attention to rank and to make sure to say "sir" when addressing a superior. But if I screwed up, I'd gladly accept my punishment if it's not too crazy, 50 pushups or whatever to redeem myself.

There are probably many ways to measure this modern decline of respect.

I remember a comic that contrasted a parent talking angrily, in both cases the parent says "These grades are terrible", but in 1960 the child was responsible, while now the teacher is responsible. ...Here it is.

And here in the Twin Cities, a Black Lives Matter group in St Paul threatened to physically block our (today) Sunday morning Marathon. And after a 2.5 hour Friday meeting with the St Paul Mayor, the group leader backed down from the threat, although its unclear what the Mayor promised. (Yes, this is the same group that protested in August by the State Fair with the "colorful" chant "Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.")

So tonight they posted a video of a police officer taking down a teenager, with a crowd of people yelling at him to stop, and his mother trying to pull him away from the police officer.

This is supposed to enrage us, that a police officer would treat a skinny little teen so "roughly", so "unfairly". Meanwhile its not entirely clear why the officer was picking on the kid, although it likely has something to do with respect. It is likely this boy said something disrespectful toward the officer, and the police officer decided the boy needed a little fear in his heart.

If it wasn't for the mother's involvement, and the crazy crowd, the officer perhaps could have just calmed the boy down, and got him to apologize for his threatening language, or whatever offense, and he could have been given a warning.

But since the police are the enemy, and can't be trusted, we have teens learning these lessons from their parents - that resisting police is righteous, blaming police is righteous, and refusing take responsibility when police respond forcefully is also righteous to resist arrest and play innocent if you're roughed up for resisting. How does this end well?

Perhaps it all arose out of the anarchy of the 1960's? And the egalitarian ideals that we're all equal, without noticing that some people were taking a lot more responsibility than others, and that respect actually helped people in positions of authority act more responsible and feel they could act with required boldness, without being second guessed by people who don't have the same responsibility.

And geeky scientists also get uppity when they believe objective facts and logic are on their side, but only when the entirety of human nature is ignored.

Minneapolis also has a nationally known organization called The Search Institute for helping us see raising kids as a community effort. I wonder what it thinks of teaching children deference to their elders? I'll have to ask sometime.