I moved a lot when I was a kid and I by a lot I mean A LOT. By the time I had turned sixteen I had lived in four different states and in over 23 different places in those four states. I know that there are a lot of folks who have lived in more places in less amounts of time, but most of them were members of the armed forces. My family was not in the armed forces or oil field workers, we just moved all the time.
My birthplace is Houston, Texas, but I lived there for only six months. My family then moved to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago we lived in what is called the “south side.” You know the south side; Jim Croce made it (in)famous in his song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” There is nothing unusual about that, lots and lots of people live in the south side of Chicago. What made our living in the south side, or at least this particular part of it was that we were white...in Chicago’s south side...in the mid 1960’s. I’ll let that sink in for just a moment.
My memories of that time are generally good. My first best friend was a boy named Jimmy; the first girl I liked as a girl was named Susie. They were both black, in fact everyone in my kindergarten was black and everyone in my grade school was black; students and teachers. The first church I ever attended was a black church. Yet in all that I never felt threatened or ostracized. But I must confess to you that I was not allowed to go to the playground at recess or to eat lunch in the cafeteria. My mother would later tell me that it was because of concerns for my safety around the older kids. I never felt slighted or in danger, to be honest I never noticed the difference between myself and all those other kids and teachers.
In the middle of second grade my family moved from Chicago to Little Rock, Arkansas. My life was about to change in more ways than one with this move. I vividly remember my first day of second grade at my new school. The principal brought me to my new class and introduced me, telling everyone that I was from Chicago. My teacher smiled down at me and asked my name. I responded, telling her my name and my mother’s and sister’s names.
At this point it’s important that you remember that I had been living in Chicago for the previous seven years. The words that came out of my mouth were the words of a young black child from the south side of Chicago, not a little boy born and raised in the south. To say that my teacher’s face registered shock and confusion would be an understatement. I remember her looking up at the principal with a look of complete confusion. Clearly there was a problem with my communication skills.
So I was sent to speech therapy for the rest of the school year. I guess it worked because I’ve had people from Illinois to California to New York tell me that I don’t sound southern (whatever that sounds like). It’s an amusing story to tell on the surface, but it’s below the surface that it becomes a little disturbing and germane to our discussion.
There is a lot of noise made today about respecting other peoples and cultures, noise that is usually made by people who are intolerant of those who disagree with their point of view. Aretha Franklin sang a song with these lyrics: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...” The song is about a woman who wants her man to quit stepping out on her and to start respecting her as a person. That’s a noble desire. We all want to be respected. The truth is a different story altogether.
I was told as a child that respect must be earned. I have come to believe that statement is wrong, respect should be given to all based on the value that God had placed upon them. Yet our nation is rapidly becoming a land where respect is vanishing. Respect is our duty to each other, to allow for the existence of differing opinions, differing likes and dislikes, all while working towards the common goal of a better world. But that concept is no longer true in America. Our homes, our streets, and social media are incubators for disrespect and its first cousin, hate. We actively divide ourselves along racial, political and economic lines and are seemingly intent on the destruction of any and everyone who doesn’t fit our preconceived ideas.
What does this have to do with parenting? Where do you think our kids learn respect and tolerance (now there’s a word that’s been redefined in our time); the home. Parents, you are the persons primarily responsible for seeing that your children learn how to respect those who are in authority over them or who look differently than they do or who might have differing opinions. We primarily teach that through our examples. When was the last time you lost control of your emotions over a sporting event or a political discussion? Your reaction is the foundation that your kids will build on when they encounter those who are different.
We must demonstrate to our children how to live at peace within the structures of the law by living within the confines of the law. We must demonstrate to our children how to live respectfully with those we disagree with by finding common ground in which we can create a better world for us all. That begins by demonstrating our respect for others, regardless of race or religion or nationality.
Let us begin by engaging in respectful conversations in our homes and ball fields and in places like Wal-Mart. Treat those who serve you respectfully, whether cashier or waitress. Speak respectfully of the police and political leaders. Work at being a part of your community, respecting that others can believe differently about the “how” but be in full agreement of the “why.”
It is an understatement to say that we live in troubled times. Our nation is rapidly becoming a war zone over personalities and politics. Sadly, most of this warfare is being encouraged and enabled by so-called “leaders” who are doing nothing more than trying to advance their own agendas. There is no room for such a lofty idea as respect, and it shows. Yet if we don’t learn how to live together in peaceful disagreement based on mutual respect our grandchildren will be left to sweep up the ashes.