Today I want to talk about respect. This is such a difficult concept for many people to understand, perhaps because we do not respect ourselves.
What is respect anyway? Respect is generally defined as a deep admiration for someone because of the person's achievements, abilities, or qualities. Merriam-Webster offers "high or special regard." Respect is then something that we feel for another. However, I believe that nowadays we think of respect as something that we offer toward another. There are several different kinds of respect that I believe we should come to expect in certain situations because of the situation itself and the type of authority that is being used.
Situational Authority. This type of authority is when someone is in charge and the others are expected to listen to instructions and directions. This type of authority occurs in a hierarchical organization, such as our country's government. It also occurs with police officers, teachers, doctors, and parents. This is the authority that comes to someone who is rightfully higher up the "chain of command." In these types of situations, the person who is in the "lower" position is expected to obey any directions or instructions that the person in charge gives. The person in the "lower" position is expected to show respect to the person with the situational authority by following the given instructions, directions, or orders.
Assumed authority. This is the type of authority that someone takes on because there is no clear delineation of who has the authority. This type of authority occurs when a group of folks get together as a committee or other organization for a purpose, and then someone steps forward to offer direction and the others follow willingly. We also see this type of authority when children are playing together. When one child tries to assume authority over another in a playtime situation, we might hear the other child say something like, "You're not the boss of me" or "You're not my mother." Stepmothers may also hear similar comments from their stepchildren. In assumed authority situations, we may or may not show respect to the person who has assumed the authority position, and so we may encounter problems in these situations.
Delegated Authority. This is the type of authority that the person who genuinely has the authority then delegates to another to act in his or her stead. For example, if a university gave orders to evacuate a building, the people who are ultimately in charge might delegate the authority to order people from the building to individuals who are much lower in the usual chain of command for that organization, e.g., secretaries, for the purpose of the emergency. Mothers may also understand this type authority as that which is given to babysitters. Parents delegate their authority to their children's school system.
The above definitions are my own based on my years of experience in the work place. I do not mean for these definitions to be comprehensive in any way or the definitive end to a discussion about other possible types of authority. My purpose in bringing up these three types of authority is to discuss what is appropriate respectful behavior in these types of situations.
I am a teacher first and foremost, and so much of what I do and think about is how to teach. As I am working to teach young people to grow into fine human beings, I think about concepts such as respect and authority a great deal. I observe our culture through social media, television, and movies, and generally when I am out and about in public in stores and church. I watch how others behave toward each other. I listen to how people treat each other, how parents and children interact with each other, and how people in general respond to the thoughts and actions of others.
Recently I taught a young student who was not having his best day. He walked into the studio with way too much excited energy. I had to spend several minutes calming him down to a place where we could have an effective learning situation. I cannot fault the parent for this, because this little boy is a little boy and that is a little boy tendency. Channeling all of the energy of little boys, especially during growth spurt periods, is quite a feat for parents, and this mom does a great job of finding outlets for the child's energy.
However, once we got going in the lesson, this little boy then behaved in very disrespectful ways toward me. He rolled his eyes when I asked him to do certain things. He crossed his eyes when he looked at me. He even went so far as to make a twirling hand gesture around his ear, which looked like someone saying blah-blah-blah or someone telling me to hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with-because-I'm-not-really-listening sort of gesture. I was stunned to see this child display such blatant, disrespectful behavior. His mother certainly never behaved that way toward me.
What I did next was crucial. I stopped teaching. I may have had my mouth open in surprise as well, because this was a pretty shocking behavior in my opinion. I could have limped along in the lesson and ignored the behavior, but what would I have been teaching the child? That it was okay to behave that way to a teacher or to me?
Sometimes I think that parents and teachers try to avoid negativity at all costs in order to keep the learning situation on a positive note. This could become a problem though in situations like this when the child is behaving completely inappropriately. There is another lesson to be taught here, and that lesson is that certain behaviors will not be ignored or rewarded. They will be addressed.
This little boy should have shown his teacher (who had the situational authority) respect by listening to instructions and then trying out those directions. He did not show me respect. I, however, have enough respect for myself, my expertise, and my experience to refuse to be treated in a disrespectful manner. Therefore, I stopped teaching. If the boy was not listening, then I was not going to continue.
My teaching situation is an example of situational authority. As the teacher, I am the person in charge of the learning situation. I give my students opportunities to be in control of some decisions so that I can help guide students' decision-making skills. This, however, was not an example of such a situation.
There are several paths to follow from this point forward. Which path would you have followed next? Please comment below about your personal experience and what you would have done.
I opted to turn to the mother and ask her whether her son treated her with that kind of disrespect. She answered yes. I then asked her what privileges her child would lose that day (hint, hint). In other words, what fun thing was he going to do that day that would not occur now? You see, this is where parents can get into trouble. If they continue with the day's activities as if nothing monumental had occurred, they are sending the message that the child can behave inappropriately with no consequences. The little boy's eyes got really wide at that point as he realized what was going on. We resumed the lesson shortly after my open discussion with the mother, and the rest of the lesson went really well.
I am of the school that believes that it is a privilege to take lessons. If a student abuses the privilege of being a student, then we should remove that privilege. I also think that the child is blessed with many other privileges, such as going to other activities, playing with friends, and going to parties. If a child abuses the privileges by showing disrespect to the adults who are providing those privileges, then I think that the privileges should be removed.
I recall one incident as a child when my mother took my sister and me to a restaurant. We were excited about going, because restaurants are fun -- lots of food choices and people to watch. We were so excited though that my sister and I misbehaved in the car. Mom made one attempt to settle us down. We made it as far as the restaurant parking lot. Still, my sister and I persisted in our behavior. So, my mom started the car back up and left the restaurant. I remember my sister and I looking at each other with shock. Of course we pleaded with her to change her mind. We promise we will be good, we told her. My mother, a teacher herself, did not buy into our promises and instead opted to reinforce the lesson that privileges would not be given when children behaved with disrespect. This was a powerful lesson at the time, as you can see, because this lesson still remains with me almost half a century later.
That lesson still remains with my sister as well. I recall calling her on the phone when her child was about age 9. I asked what my sister was doing at the time, and my sister said that she was pulled over to the side of the road and was balancing her checkbook. Huh? It seems that my sister's child had thrown a temper tantrum in the car, so my sister handled it by stopping and pulling over to the side of the road. My sister would not progress until her daughter stopped caterwauling. My sister and I then reminded each other of the restaurant incident of our own childhood.
In this current culture, children are exposed to examples of many disrespectful behaviors. Television shows typically portray extremely disrespectful behaviors between friends, family members, and co-workers as well as in many different situations, such as school, work, and home. Most of us adults probably understand the humor of such shows because we know better. However, I wonder sometimes whether children have the same understanding.
Just the other day I overheard a university student order a university professor to return a music stand to a particular room when the professor was done with the stand. At first I assumed that the student did not recognize the teacher as a professor (which would not have excused the inappropriate address but might explain the student's behavior), so I asked the student about this. I learned that the student did know that he was addressing a professor. This was an example of how a student did not understand what the appropriate behavior was. The student and I had a discussion about that. I walked away from the conversation wondering how the student came to believe that it was alright to address a professor in such an inappropriate manner.
Please give this subject some consideration and leave a comment about your own experience. Do your children or students show you respect? If they do not show the appropriate respect, how do you handle it? How would you have handled the teaching situation I described earlier with the young boy?
As we travel through this week, let us notice our own behavior towards others. Do we show the appropriate respect to the other people in our lives? Do we treat our spouses, our children, our students, our co-workers, our employers, our friends, and even strangers with respect? I submit that we should be mindful of the way that we behave toward others. Think how lovely the world would be if we all treated each other with respect.