9/28/2005

The Two Rs: Respect And Responsibility

A common complaint amongst older generations are that the younger ones "ain't got no respect", and "won't face the music". What we seem to forget (that we, includes me) is that they have to learn that behaviour somewhere. While arguments can be made that certain ways of being are genetic, behaviour patterns are something that someone has taught you either directly or through example. Who teaches behaviour depends on the influences in a person's life. Obviously your first teacher is your parent, but realistically after a child goes off to school for the day, how much direct influence does that parent still have? On a good weekday a family will gather for a half-hour to forty-five minutes in the morning around the breakfast table. After school the whole family may sit down for dinner together, and than go their separate ways. Even those are ideal circumstances. There are so many families these days where one parent has to do shift work and is on an opposite schedule from the rest of the family that they are sometimes never seen. If both parents are forced to work, how much time do they actually spend influencing their child directly? Certainly what a child learns in his or her first five years is important, but since our brains continue to develop for many years after that, there are a variety of influences that are beyond direct parental control. Older children at school, teachers, television, movies, and the behaviour of adults outside the home environment all play a part in shaping a person. Parents can have a mitigating influence when it comes to areas like video games, television, and other entertainment devices by explaining the difference between reality and pretend. Those who blame those third party items for what they consider abhorrent behaviour are actually guilty of teaching the behaviour they consider to be the root of all problems: lack of respect and responsibility. The parent who blames video games for their child's misbehaviour is shirking their own responsibilities of monitoring what their child is doing. A video game, no matter how violent, will only influence a child if he or she can't distinguish it from reality. The same goes for movies, television and anything else you want to consider a bad influence. Whose job is it to teach them that if not the parent? Than you compound the problem by not accepting responsibility for your actions. If instead of telling your child those games are horrid and you can't play them anymore, you were to say, I screwed up by not teaching you the difference between them and real life, you've just taught two valuable lessons. Not only do you teach them the difference between videos and life, you have shown them it's okay to admit a mistake, and that it's important to accept your responsibilities. If a parent is continually blaming everything else in the world for not only their child's misbehaviour, but all their misfortunes as well, what kind of example are they setting? Taking responsibility for your actions is not a sign of weakness; in fact it is a sign of strength. It means you have enough faith in yourself that you can overcome a mistake and move on from there. It's amazing how much respect you earn with this type of behaviour. What kind of lesson is someone like Micheal Brown teaching when he goes on the stand and refuses to accept any responsibility for the post Hurricane Katrina foul-ups? Even the Republicans on the house investigating committee are having a hard time swallowing his statements. Maybe he is being made a scapegoat by the government, but he still can't avoid the fact that he was the director of FEMA, whose nominal job is to deal with crises just like this. In blaming everyone from the Mayor of New Orleans to the Department of Homeland Security while refusing to accept even an iota of responsibility he becomes just one more name in a list of public servants over the years who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. What kinds of lessons are elected officials or government appointees teaching when they show such a lack of respect for their offices that they won't even take responsibility for their job. These are the examples today's young people see all the time. From millionaires committing fraud to politicians not doing their jobs, it's always somebody else's fault. With cases of fraud this is compounded by a flagrant disrespect for the laws of the country. When people like Martha Stewart are hauled off to jail for insider trading, or the folks at Enron cook their books to make themselves appear solvent, what kind of lessons are being taught? Unfortunately this type of behaviour is only the tip of the ice burg. In all walks of life and so many professions children see people lying. Sports stars claiming they're "clean" and than testing positive for steroids, church officials preaching celibacy and morality, than covering up years of child abuse by their priests; it's no wonder young people have no respect these days and no sense of responsibility. When the majority of public figures all seem to be either trying to "get away" with something, or refusing to accept responsibility for their actions, even the parents doing their best to teach their children respect and responsibility are fighting a losing battle. Before blaming anyone for their deficiencies, perhaps we need to look in a mirror?

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