Respect or Empathy?

I must have been an 8-year old or so when the following conversation happened.

Grandmom: “You must respect and obey your parents. If they ask you to jump into a well, jump first and ask why later.”

Me: “Umm, not so fast. They gotta explain their reasons first. If I’m convinced, I’ll jump.”

Respecting & complying with authority-by-diktat never came naturally to me. I shun the compulsive deference commonly shown towards people in power. Respect, I always felt, has got to be earned and it has little to do with someone’s age.

I prefer the terms “empathy” and “respectful” instead.

Empathy, I am convinced after reading Daniel Pink’s “A whole new mind” is a critical social skill that we must equip our children and ourselves with, in order to be successful and effective in the 21st century. The ability to see things from someone else’s frame of reference is such a powerful builder of bridges!

And being Respectful should be a non-negotiable, hygiene aspect of how we interact with other people, whether or not we like them or agree with them. Simple things such as listening when someone else is talking can go such a long way. Even when you don’t agree on things — “respectfully” disagreeing is so much more constructive than slinging insults or a shouting match.

So, should I teach my kids to “respect their elders”? Absolutely not! Should I teach them to be respectful and empathetic? Totally yes!

P.S. Of course, having said all the above, there are those occasions when one is forced to preserve one’s sanity with a firm “Because. I. Said. So.” in order to terminate an endless argument with a toddler. Such is life :).

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