Respect should be earned, not taken for granted

Shae Slaughter

If someone were to ask you why you say “please” and “thank you,” what would you say? That it’s polite? That you were taught to do so? Chances are it wasn’t just a trait you were born with. As young adults, we are accustomed to doing certain things. We know the rules and we follow them. Respecting our elders is one of those rules. The greater question is why someone deserves our respect just because their birthday falls a few decades before ours. 

Oftentimes, age goes hand in hand with wisdom and life lessons that 20-year-olds just have not yet faced. In those situations, we should most certainly defer to our parents, our teachers or our employers, who probably do know more than us. However, that generalization does not always apply. Age does not necessarily mean qualification. Age does not necessarily mean unquestionable superiority. 

Yes, I know a myriad of adults who deserve all the respect in the world. They have earned it through their actions, and I have no problem with following their guidance. But I also know a handful of people who are older than I who do not deserve my respect because of their actions toward me or toward society in general. 

As 20-somethings, we should be able to question our training to respect our elders automatically. Of course, civility should be universal, but unwavering respect should be earned. I should not feel obligated to hold my tongue and defer to someone whom I view to be rude, racist, judgmental or unqualified purely because they outrank me in years. 

A perfect example of this is evident in the actions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. As the victims of a school shooting, they have the right to challenge the authorities who could have helped prevent their terrible situation. Sure, they’re teenagers, but that doesn’t mean they are obligated to respect the people who, quite frankly, let them down. 

Fox News host Todd Starnes brought this question into the limelight when he conducted an informal Twitter poll asking parents if their children spoke to them with the same level of disrespect with which the shooting survivors spoke to the Floridian senators. He made it a point to say that these students were lecturing and ridiculing the senators, when in reality they were just standing up for themselves.

Who’s to say these students did anything wrong? They were speaking their minds but were labeled out of line simply because of their age. Sure, these congresspeople are experienced professionals, but that certainly does not make them faultless. I don’t believe these teenagers were wrong in their actions. Instead, I think we should be praising them for their strength even at such a young age. 

To be respected, one must act in a way that warrants such feelings. Adults cannot continue to act in shameful ways and expect us to follow the old adage that children are not to speak unless spoken to. We have a right to earn respect, too.