Requiem for respect

Several years ago, I wrote a column titled, the Absence of Good Manners. It drew a great deal of comments, primarily due to the fact that it was a subject in need of commenting about.

Unfortunately, we have not done well in advancing good manners - nor on the subject of being respectful.

One needs to look no further than the presidential campaigns and debates to come away with the conclusion that respect is being trampled upon. But why is this not surprising - it is the new norm in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be contagious.

On Capitol Hill the lack of respect exhibited by those on both sides of the aisle as well as amongst the Legislative staff members is unprecedented. And then the Members wonder why the Congress has an approval rating in single digits. And more tragic, the nation's business is not getting done.

The Members of Congress don't just confine their disrespectfulness solely among themselves - they also manifest their disdain and disrespect towards the American people - ask yourself this question:

What company, organization, local government entity or family would leave their post for seven weeks when confronted with dire economic straits?

The media has been screaming that the Federal budget is heading towards a "fiscal cliff" by the end of 2012 - and Congress is nowhere to be found. The lack of concern by the Congress is not only disheartening but also dangerous.

The lack of respect is not solely confined to Washington. Ask a local restaurant owner what was his/her biggest problem this foliage season and you will be told - the shortness of respect by patrons. Customers, while asking for a table could not remove a cell phone from their ear while talking - customers who found it necessary to create a scene because they had to wait to be seated or in having to wait a little longer for their meal.

Unfortunately, restaurants don't have a monopoly on disrespectful individuals. There are others? It is upsetting to see teenage boys walking around or coming to meetings with their trousers well below their hips and caps on their heads never to be removed when in doors.

Or maybe the subject is a great deal more disturbing than my simple examples. Take for example, M.I.T. Professor Sherry Turkel's piece in the April 22, 2012, New York Times.

"We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we're on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it's hard, but it can be done.

I've learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are."

It is no wonder that at boards or government meetings the ability to have a civil discussion has become so foreign. Can it be possible that we have lost the art of civil discourse - because we have become so wired?

Among many, it has come to pass that rudeness is a virtue. It has also become a trend that requires attention as does the behavior in Washington - but how.

Well, for starters, we can do something about rude and disrespectful politicians - vote them out of office. A respectful demeanor should rank up close to the top, in requirements for politicians, as his/her position on the "issues."

In so far as making a change in rudeness and disrespectfulness outside of Washington, it has to begin in the home, in our schools and in the workplace. Let me propose that we begin by setting the last Friday of each month as "The Day of Respect for One Another," not one day out of the year, but one day each month. Throughout America, the axiom of respectfulness would be the topic on such a day.

Failing to address this issue will certainly lead to the burying of respect for our institutions and for each other, and then, where do we go?

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.


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