Ask your children or grandchildren for a definition of “dissing” and, chances are, the answer you get will include words like rudeness and insults. Ask what the word “respect” means and the reply will probably be vague or abstract and have more to do with love (or fear) than with high regard. They may claim to respect their parents but feel they are old-fashioned and don’t understand how things are for kids these days.
Of course, they will insist they respect authority, and in the next breath tell you how they sneaked out of study hall, went joyriding when they were supposedly at the library, and “snowed” the coach about a missed practice. They’ll stand tall and salute the flag when it passes by in the homecoming parade, then dash off with their friends and their fake ID to buy beer or cigarettes for the unsupervised party that will follow the big game– if they don’t get caught going over the speed limit.
Somehow, respect for the flag doesn’t have anything to do with obeying the laws of the nation, state, or town it represents.
I wonder how many times our reasonably good kids have heard tales told around the dinner table about how Dad or Grandpa got away with something in their youth? Or heard Mom and Aunt Darla giggling over memories of the antics at slumber-parties when they were in high school? How many times have they been in the car when Mom or Dad ran a red light, hit the brake when a patrol car came over the hill, or sipped on a beer during a long, tedious drive? Minor things, agreed, but when our kids see us stretch the rules, they come to believe it’s okay, as long as you don’t get caught. In order to earn respect, I believe we have to be respectable. Our kids figure out that parents and others in authority have feet of clay, we lose our credibility and, thus, the respect we need to be effective.
Respectability, as I see it, has to do with being admirable, trustworthy, consistent and fair. Respect has to do with a belief that the parent (or other authority) is right and should be trusted and obeyed. If you truly respect someone, then you don’t question what they tell you. You take their advice even if you don’t totally understand it. You obey their rules without arguing that yours is a special case. If not, then you are dissing– disrespecting– and that is one of the things that defines bullying.
In order to support feelings of his own superiority, the bully has to make his victim feel inferior, and the most efficient road to that end is to treat him with disrespect, and to convince his cohorts that they, too, are superior. This is why most bullies tend to do their damage when they have witnesses. Another way to achieve that reputation of superiority, is to avoid actual confrontation and deliver the insults by other means such as graffiti, computer, anonymous notes or phone calls. Unfortunately, the Internet and cell phones make it fairly easy for the bully to escape detection. Equally unfortunate is the fact that, once an ugly rumor or insulting message is out there in cyberspace, it can reach many more than just a handful of witnesses, and it makes little difference if it is founded in fact or not.
You hear a lot these days about schools setting out to teach respect. They’re worried about students who do everything from sassing the teachers to bringing guns to school. They’re worried about bullying and lack of good sportsmanship. They wonder if competitiveness, as fostered by sports, playground activities, contests, awards and gold stars may be responsible for violence, prejudice and the “me first” attitude of so many students.
It seems to me that, without competition, we’d never have any improvements in the human race. School sports were designed, at least initially, to teach students to strive for success, to work with others for a common goal, and to feel good about themselves. We must guard against losing sight of that goal, for how can we achieve those things without the competition inherent in organized sports? Why would we have programs for those gifted and talented students who are academically superior and deny similar opportunities for those whose talents are mainly athletic?
We owe it to the future of the human race, to make all our children feel good about themselves– not by comparing them to other children, but by celebrating their individual accomplishments and growth. As self-worth and self-respect grow, the need to bully others diminishes.