Respect Whose Elders?

A while back, I wrote an article called 'Age Is Just A Blunder,' in which I discussed revering a text simply because it's old. But, something has hit me.

Why are we supposed to respect our elders? Think about it. When were you first told, "Respect your elders."? I remember being told that phrase when I was young. Like, really young. It went hand in hand with 'Children should be seen and not heard' and 'Because I said so, that's why!'

These are things we never questioned, because questioning lead to negative stimuli: no dessert, your TV got taken away, you got the belt if you pushed the matter too far. Now that I'm older - and have told a few of my elders exactly where they could stick their respect - I realize that it's all just bologna.

On the way out of the parking garage at work, today, an exceedingly old man was on the sidewalk with his walker and he was staring at the cars going out of the exit. He was really pissed that nobody had stopped so that he could walk across the flow of traffic, despite the fact that there are sidewalks - like the one he was on - all around the garage. Of course, if you ask me, stopping the flow of traffic in a busy shopping center so someone can walk across a lane he or she isn't supposed to be walking across is a little dumb and potentially dangerous. (As right next to the exit is the entrance, which is a blind entrance. Nobody would know if that old man was creeping along with his walker as they came whipping in.)

This situation is echoed across countless encounters with perfect strangers. The old woman who wants to cut in line. The elderly man that doesn't understand why you're not telepathically aware of when he wants you to help him and when he wants you to stay the hell away. (Waiting tables sucks, btw.) The old couple in the restaurant, or other public arena, that is pissed beyond belief that you cannot change the entire building's temperature to suit their body warmth needs that change every 5 minutes.

But, it's even more than this. Teachers telling their students, "You cannot disrespect me like that. I'm your elder." Other kids' parents telling your child that they should be more respectful, or - going a step further - telling your kid what to do under the guise of 'respecting your elders.'

I think this is a phrase that is exceedingly overused. I agree that we should respect OUR elders. Those elders that are in our circles, or that are actual wizened elders of a particular group or society. An elder should not be simply somebody that outlived a segment of the population. Accumulating years doesn't make you any wiser than it makes someone half your age.

Though, I get the basis for this kind of philosophy. We don't like it when someone 10, 20, 30+ years younger than us tells us what to do, or is otherwise snotty to us. We have the attitude of 'Who the hell do you think YOU are?'.

I used to work for Best Buy, and one of their stores has a manager that is 19. 19 years old. Seriously. He has people working for him that are well over twice his age, but he gets the job done exceedingly well. He's someone who very well may run the company one day. So, I can respect him as a businessman. Now, do I respect him personally? Do I respect his opinion on parenting or caring for a sick loved one or how to tell your loved one you've enlisted into the armed services? In short:


He has not earned that respect. He has not done anything to merit that respect. He is not an elder in any of those groups to me. He is not a senior figure in the world of parenting or familial relationships. 

I think we also need to get rid of the hang up that an elder has to be an old person. The Dalai Lama is thought to be continually and immediately reborn upon death. Once one dies, they go out seeking for a boy - a BOY - to become the new spiritual leader of Tibet. That's respecting an elder on a whole new scale. Respecting him for multiple lifetimes.

Respect, for me, is something that is earned. Now, I can like you. I can be congenial and treat you with fairness and give you the benefit of the doubt, but respect you? Take your word and run with it whether I agree? Accept your opinion and admire you deeply? That's something that shouldn't be allotted simply because someone got old. You can be old and never have done one thing worthy of respect.

Rioters, what do YOU think about respect? What do you think makes someone an elder? Leave a comment, tweet @IncitingARiot, or email 

OH!!! One more thing: Can you find a quick second to VOTE on Podcast Alley? It's getting down to the wire, and I'd love to see this show get bumped up in the ratings!

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. I have a really radical idea: how about just respecting people because they're human beings, and in some cases, they have greater experience than oneself, or greater skill in a certain area than oneself, or greater knowledge in a certain area than oneself, etc etc? If they happen to be old people, great. If they are young people, great. No matter their age or whatever abilities they have, different people bring different gifts to the banquet-table of Life. It's fascinating to get to know different people with different gifts, is it not?

  2. Although with regard to elders: believe me, some people my age and older (40) really lack patience with young people because of their arrogance and need to express to the world "I know everything and I don't need your input!" See car scene in Fried Green Tomatoes as an example of what I'm talking about. Some of us live for moments when we can say the equivalent of "face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance."

  3. So, with regards to "why are we supposed to respect our elders..."

    Get back to us on that when you are over 40 years old. You'll see.

  4. I think "elder" is linked with age and age is then linked with experience.
    But in my eyes "elder" should just go with experience and we should throw the age thing out.

    I feel everyone deserves a basic level of respect. Kindness, the benefit of the doubt and general good will. No argee-bargee really.
    But when my teachers used to demand I do something out of respect I just had to say no. If it's the rules I'll follow them. But if there's rules for some people and rules for others that I don't understand I'll contest them.

    I agree with you Fire Lyte, respect must be earned.

  5. Respect does need to be earned. It can be earned either on an individual basis or as a community affair. Either way respect takes a long time to be earned, and a short time to be lost.

    I also feel that there are different levels of respect. I can respect someones thoughts and opinions, but I may not respect their actions, or vise verse. I would hold someone like that in lesser renown then then someone that I respect in all aspects of life.

    As for someone being an elder by most definitions they only need be older then you are. But that's just the most popular definition. Elder is also used for people of high renown in communities and groups. It's even used as a title for Mormon missionaries. I remember clearly my friend telling me about a missionary at his door trying to get him to call him elder. All my friend could say to the guy was "There's no way in hell I'm calling someone 50 years younger then me an elder."

    So if someone has been granted the title of Elder in a group or community that I am a part of, I will probably respect them until they give me reason to otherwise. But if someone I don't know comes up to me and introduces themselves as Elder I won't respect them until they give me reason to. Actually I'll probably think they're a little pompous, just like someone introducing themselves as Lord or Lady. Titles don't mean much unless you're a part of the community that bestowed the title upon the person.

  6. I wonder how much of this "demand" for respect is rooted in the Old Testament injunction for parents who have a sassy kid, to put said kid to death. Never could remember book and verse of it.

    Then there's the dichotomy between "The customer is always right," against "The customer is usually a jerk."

    Most older people (so I've been learning) still have a self-image active in their minds of how they were at 18 or 21 or so. That image of myself as a very tall, scrawny, awkward youth was destroyed when I was told by a woman that she was afraid merely because I was in the same room as she was. I guess now I present the image of a cave bear some idiot put human clothing on.

    Almost all of the people with this complaint against elders happen to be young folk. Many of them are resentful because they haven't been put in charge of the world yet. Some of them are angry because someone who has "been there -- still have the scars" has tried to caution them about applying common sense before indulging in something unnecessarily risky. Some of them are merely tired of being the 'student,' and wish to strike out on their own, already.

    And then there are the young who are just psychotic in one way or a dozen.

    This competition over who has been through the worst kind of life is really uninteresting to me. It really gets in the way of communicating with others.


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