When hearing about respect my thoughts go back to early childhood in which I saw a poster that read, “To get respect, show respect”. Although that advisory axiom is well reasoned I feel it is insufficient or ambiguous. Rather, I would say, “To get respect, show respect for yourself then others”. It is my proposition that the lack of regard for respectful behaviours which proliferate through our society is due to a lack of respect for self.
To elucidate I will recount a recent event involving a neighbor and her son. Through this anecdote you will observe the missed opportunities of this parent for instilling the respect in her child which she desperately seeks. More important though is that you will notice that she actually inculcates her son with a disrespectful attitude. This is due largely to her lack of respect for herself. First, I will give you some relevant background information for you to draw upon to give these events adequate context.
I ride bicycles frequently and have numerous ones about the house, sidewalk, deck, and yard - two dozen or so in total. There is apparently about the same number of children around here within a stone’s throw.
It’s no surprise that some children have asked to use my air pump, a wrench, or for help with repairing a bicycle. As these requests increased I simply placed those items on my porch and told the children they were welcome to use them. Of course such usage was contingent upon the standard rule when borrowing something.
Recite that to yourself now. If you don’t know it then read on for sure.
It takes a village to raise a child
Or does it?
My neighbor’s son was aware of this rule about borrowing items which is part of the social contract of the members of most societies. His awareness of rules is not concurrent with compliance though which led to her seeking my assistance the week before school concluded for this year. On one evening she came out to where children, including her son, and I were playing and explained that it takes her from 8:00 pm to midnight to get the children inside, ready for bed and in bed each night. She then told me that if her children are out after 8:00 that I am to get them inside. Or to come tell her.
It was two days later that he was on my porch getting the air pump in the mid-afternoon. The next morning as I walked past their house I stepped over my pump which had been discarded on the sidewalk.
Later in the day I saw the boy and asked him what is the rule about borrowing items. His reply, “It wasn’t my fault.” Not satisfied with the reply I repeated my question. He then stated that he didn’t know. Numerous other people I have spoken with about that rule have stated it verbatim. This included other children. Apparently this boy knew enough of it to attempt to defend himself or diffuse blame by stating it wasn’t his fault.
I then told him that because he no longer knows it that he just won’t be able to take stuff any longer this year. He then proceeded to say that he didn’t care, he can get another one, that his mom made him leave it on the sidewalk and whatever else as he was walking away. I then told him to stop sassing me which was followed by some other insolent comment of his. With that I told him not to talk to me for the remainder of the year. My feeling was that if he wanted something again we would be going through the same argument. But, if he wanted to take some time to ruminate on the issue and then write something demonstrating contrition then we could discuss re-establishing the privilege of borrowing things from me at will.
Mom steps in
Later in the afternoon after his mother returned home from work she came marching over to my house and stood out on the sidewalk and yelled, “Hey Stuart! What is this about you grounding my son for a year?” As I started to explain that he had borrowed the bicycle pump and then let it be on the sidewalk for a full day afterward she interrupted by barking that her son is only seven years of age, that its a year, and that I cannot tell her child that.
I attempted to counter her contentions, particularly that her son has a right to borrow and not return my items, but she walked away continuing to talk over me by furthering her tirade and insults. Sound familiar?
As she got back to her yard I unloaded on her with my typical manner of dealing with irritants. I told her, “Goodbye!” repeated it and, as she continued to sass me, gave her a double dose of the big FU. That should eliminate that irrant from my life and I should not have to hear from her again how I can’t tell her son not to use my items at his will.
No person that I have counseled has demonstrated such a clear case of how to indoctrinate lawlessness into a child.
Speaking to me already?
A few days after this when, out in the roadway where we are playing, a friend asks me about the incident. As I was explaining to her the boy started listening in and came over to plead his case. This is precisely what I did not want happening. I had made my decision that, for the remainder of 2019, he had lost the privilege of taking items from my porch without asking. Further, because I didn’t want to hear him try to argue his way out of taking responsibility for the matter I told him to not speak to me for the remainder of the year.
What both he and his mother had pleaded has been soundly rejected by civil and criminal courts. Their argument is analogous civilly to liability by contractors or auto manufacturers who use subcontractors or suppliers. It would be that if they built your vehicle using a defective part from a supplier which resulted in malfunction and injury to you that they have no liability. Or, similarly, that if they hired an incompetent subcontractor to install the electrical service in your new home and that sub did so incorrectly resulting in electrocution to you or a fire, that it is a matter between you and the sub and as a general contractor they would have no liability.
That is just not the way it is.
As the person who came and took the bicycle air pump from my porch, the boy is responsible for it, including who uses it, and its return to my porch. If he entrusts another with the responsibility of returning it he is still, ultimately, responsible for seeing that it was returned.
However, he had the audacity to walk past it the next day and let it remain on the sidewalk because, as he pleaded, someone else use it after him and it wasn’t his fault that one of the other users didn’t return it.
This is a matter of integrity. Integrity, being a substantial portion of the personal worth calculus, is critical for a child’s development and self-regard. Fortunately for this lad he does possess an organic sense of integrity.
A week following the initial incident he had a visiting friend who came over to my house. The friend asked if he could borrow the pump. He did so on the sidewalk in front of my house then returned it to the porch. The offending lad who was on his bicycle nearby said, “Thank you Stewie for letting him use your air pump.” I responded that he was quite welcome so long as it gets returned.
In the few days following he saw me at the swimming pool when I had taken other children there. When I acknowledged him he greeted me and was cordial.
He is now respecting himself by showing respect to me. Integrity in a person demonstrates that he or she feels a sense of self-worth. Those who don’t have this esteem don’t feel that their character can be damaged and, thus, they do not honour commitments, respect others, or demonstrate the various attributes of integrity.
This boy may insist that he has free-will and that his actions are a result of his decisions. However, the behaviour of this boy, as with many people, follows a pattern and is quite predictable.
His initial response was to ape his mother when faced with a conflict. As predicted, he sought to restate his excuse for his failure to return the pump which was totally ignored by me. Hence, the admonition not to speak to me. Upon the passing of time to reflect his attitude changed and he showed contrition. Following that he has re-established his cordial relationship with me and again earned respect from me.
He still has to ask my permission on an individual basis to use anything of mine for the remainder of 2019. To not demand such would indicate that I lack integrity.
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