Monday, November 8, 2010

On Respect

A couple of posts on a couple of blogs caught my eye and my mind over the past few days.

OldNFO talks about how being in the military changes you, and how you never completely leave the uniform behind.

The military, for all its flaws, is a comfort zone for anyone who has ever worn the uniform. It's a place where you know the rules and know they are enforced; a place where everybody is busy but not too busy to take care of business. Because there exists behind the gates of every military facility an institutional understanding of respect, order, uniformity, accountability and dedication that becomes part of your marrow and never, ever leaves you.

Brad Torgersen, who will be going up on my bloglist next time I update it, talks about what it means to be a gentleman:

I think this code can apply anywhere, at any time, and it’s a shame to see so many males advance through adolescence and into adulthood without receiving either a proper role model — or proper guidance. Because the honest truth of it is this — and I speak comfortably as a man who knows his limitations: women civilize us. Left to our own devices, we are selfish, brutal bastards. We need the women in our lives to remind us of a higher responsibility, beyond our own carnal lusts and the rumbling of our stomachs. A gentleman rises to this challenge like a falcon rises to the morning sun. He does not shirk it or shrink from it, or cast it off as old-fashioned.
Go read the entirety of both articles.  What I have to say can wait while these two gentlemen have their say.

What I believe both of these articles boil down to, and my own personal views go along with them to a large part, is respect.  Respect for yourself, respect for another, and respect for your group as a whole.

NFO talks about how people in the military tend to work together towards a common goal with a lot less of the societal grease that you find in a civilian organization.  In a corporation, there is a lot of stroking of egos, both individual and collective, in order to get cooperation.  In the military, while it is also a common phenomenon, it's not absolutely necessary.  If you give a group of professional military people a goal, explain the goal to them, and let them know what resources they have to achieve the goal, they will tend to maximize each others skills to achieve the goal.  In the civilian realm, where power relationships aren't as cut and dried and personal gain is usually more important than collective success, a lot more convincing is necessary to get coordinated work accomplished.

Mr. Torgersen makes excellent points about how a gentleman (or lady) acts.  He boils  these down to a few maxims, but again, it's all respect.  A gentleman respects the women he comes into contact with, and treats them accordingly.  A gentleman also doesn't stand for someone else acting disrespectfully to others. 

I'll admit it, I sometimes oggle.  I have to concentrate to not look down a woman's shirt.   I use rough language in mixed company.  But if I ever catch myself crossing lines, I'm quick to throw it into reverse and apologize without prompting.  I never use my position, knowledge, or privileges to get away with outrageous behavior.  In fact, those who do make my stomach turn. 

To bring this down to a point, those of us who miss the military miss it because it is an organization based on trust and respect.  Members of that organization are exceptionally good at policing themselves and correcting or ejecting those who can't work within that framework.  While it's not codified anymore, "An Officer and A Gentleman" is still part of the ethos, for officers, NCO's, and privates who took the oath of enlistment last Thursday.  "Conduct Unbecoming" is still one of the worst things that can be said about you. 

As for why the general population has lost this to at least some extent, I believe it has a lot to do with how you were raised.  If I ever show disrespect to a woman or an older man, I fully expect the ghost of my sainted German grandmother to rise up and bring Gotterdammerung down upon me.  Men who are younger than me or my age are expected to correct me themselves.  Women are capable of doing this, and I've had my butt kicked by enough older men to know they can too, but they should never have to.

Example:  This evening, I stopped at Walmart to buy a new power supply for Little Bear's laptop.  It had one of those strapped-on electronic alarm gadgets on it, and the elderly lady working the register had trouble taking it off with the proprietary magnetic tool.  She took it to customer service for help after a few fruitless minutes of trying to remove it.  I stood and waited quietly, and when she'd left, I turned to the teenager behind me to apologize.

His answer, which caused the hair on the back of my neck to raise up, was "Dried out old woman shouldn't be doing this anyway.  Guess it's a too complicated for her."

As I counted to ten in Serb under my breath, a hand appeared in the air behind his head, and smacked him hard enough his glasses came off.  You guessed it, it was an older, female family member who was in line behind him.  He stammered his apologies to her and stood there silently while the cashier returned and finished ringing me up.  All this time, his Auntie was watching him with a look that would turn most men to stone.

If more young men were raised by women who weren't afraid to beat some sense into them about how to act, maybe the gulf between those who know respect and those who don't wouldn't be that wide.


Julie said...

i'm so glad his aunt smacked him in the head!

you're right though, RESPECT is the key!

Christina LMT said...

Aretha knew what she was singing about.

And hell, I was still taught to CURTSY to older people, when I was a child! (In Germany, granted...but still!) And to stand when older people entered a room. Even if I was at home, sitting on the couch. I STILL had to get up. It was a SIGN OF RESPECT. All too many children nowadays are not taught how to show respect to anyone, and too many parents don't set a good example, either! It's too sad. I taught my girls how to shake hands properly, and to hold doors open, and to be courteous always. I hope it stuck...
Not to hijack your comments section, but one time, when my twins were about six or seven, they went through a phase where they ADORED elevators. We were at a mall, and they insisted on using the elevator instead of the escalator. An older woman using a walker was waiting for the elevator, too, and when the doors opened, my two brats tried to rush inside, pushing past the older lady...quick as a wink, I grabbed a shirt collar in each hand and YANKED them back out, saying sternly, "NO! THIS lady goes in FIRST." She thanked me for it, and I hope that my daughters do too, someday! ;)

DaddyBear said...

I must say, it was satisfying to see the problem handled by someone with direct authority over him rather than by me chewing him out.

I've corrected my kids enough that they hold doors for other people, make way for older people, and offer to help when someone obviously needs it. I just hope it sticks.

Old NFO said...

The cores of both mine and Brad's posts are about respect and responsibility... Those are the key ingredients, and I agree on the immediate un-prompted apology (hell I was a sailor for 22 years)... :-)

Rick O' Shea said...

Reading this post, and had no real comment except to nod and smile appreciatively and with agreement.
Until I got to the bit about Auntie. To her I raise a glass.

At work, I open doors, lift heavy objects, etc.. for my female coworkers. The usual comment is, "so nice to see a true gentleman."
My thought is, "such a shame that is it rare enough to be remarkable."

On the flip side, something I have have seen on several occasions around town: a young man, dressed "thug"-style (sideways ballcap, pants at half-mast, etc...) hold the door of a store open for my wife and I, or stop to let us cross the street. Occasionaly with a small nod and smile and, "Ma'am"; as genteel as a Duke or a cowboy.

Gives me hope. There's some Mommas and Aunties out there doing their job.

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