I was at a speaker event the other day and during the question and answer round, a lady in the front row raised her hand. I could only see the back of her head and from her long dark curls I got the impression she was attractive. When she started speaking she had the confidence and youth in her voice of someone who had just returned from the US. She said without any fear to the politician who was speaking to us, “I know that all politicians are corrupt, but my question is…” She actually lost me after the first few words. This was not a political rally - it was an invitation only private talk from a respected new entrant into politics. The average age in the audience was probably 55, and this question was addressed with so much defiance, I felt the people around me shift with awkwardness and giggle with an embarrassed choke.
Our speaker smiled warmly and his response started with, “Well, not All politicians are corrupt…” to which she interrupted and said, “Maybe, but most are.”
This went on for a few minutes and then the questions continued. I heard him speak and suddenly I felt like telling him that not all of us feel as arrogantly as her. Or let me correct that, I felt like saying that some of us still have manners…
I left the room before I actually got to meet or even see whom this girl was, and by then it was irrelevant. She seemed to me like someone who had probably done reasonably well in college and was now back trying to figure out what to do. Someone who is full of opinions but doesn't have a plan yet, and someone who has been brought up to speak her mind and be taken seriously as an adult.
In the much spoken about book ‘Outliers’, (which has definitely made a huge impact on me) there is an example about a mother who is (ultimately) doing it right. She encourages her son to ask his doctor questions. This apparently will give him the confidence and courage to later on do well in life. I believe that and I do he same with my daughter (now five.) I encourage her to speak when spoken to and to ask the questions that come to her mind. We play a question game where we sit around as a family and ask and answer questions in turn. Some of the questions she has asked me are the following:
- When I write a letter / number wrong, why do you shout at me?
- Who do is your favourite – my brother or me?
- Why do you invite my friend xyz over to play even though I have told you I don’t like her?
Usually my answers are the following:
- Because I have taught it to you a hundred times and you still get it wrong!!!
- I love you both equally, and I hope you can see that…
- Because she’s my friend’s daughter and I really want you to be friends!
I like the fact that she puts me on the spot without meaning to and that our communication is getting stronger. But that day at that event something hit me – where has the respect gone. Opinions are good, confident questions are impressive, but what happened to basic respect? Our children will be even more confident, strongly opinionated and smart. But will they have any humility or manners from within. Not the sort of manners that tell you to put your napkin on your lap, but the sort of manners that give you the sense to put people at ease around you and not make them uncomfortable.
Where’s the book that tells us about that? Of course we hope to raise very kind and sweet children, but today’s parents are also trying to raise children that know how to ‘fight back’. Can you imagine what will happen when this generation grows up?
The morning after this event when I cuddled my daughter in bed I asked her if she knew what respect meant. She said it meant ‘caring’.
For now, that’s good enough for me….