showing respect in an age of rebellion

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Socrates said that, about 400 B.C. So maybe it hasn’t gotten worse; it hasn’t gotten better, either. I teach tyrants every day, actually. The young are always smarter than the old, at least until they get older.

But it does make it difficult for college grads to get jobs these days, burdened as they are with so much knowledge. It’s the number one complaint of their boomer bosses, actually. No respect for authority.

This lack of respect is understandable to some degree. Both their parents and their schools have specialized in making rules without reasons, or at least without explaining them. It easy to see through that and resent that. Trust turns easily to cynicism.

But Socrates refers to contempt, disrespect and self-centered behaviors, all more about our attitudes than our action. None of this is conducive to thoughtful engagement with processes and policies most likely rooted in something constructive.

2 Peter 2:10 describes “those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority,” but defiling and despising are really the same thing: putting ourselves first. Avoiding this temptation is difficult because lots of things need to change, and in some organizations they need to change very soon.

And yes, the risk taking required to improve or change things is often easier for the young. But respectful listening and questioning are often missing in their toolkit. Emails especially seem impatient if not impertinent, demanding action without understanding circumstance. There is so much to learn that you can’t learn if you are full of yourself.

As long as our personal life continues to be about proving that we can do what we want, our professional life will suffer, even if we are starting our own company. What really matter is serving a client, caring about an audience, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. This requires seeing things from another perspective, and you might as well start with your parents and your boss. It’s good practice. And long-term success requires good mentors, historical reference and positive attitudes.

Properly understood, authority protects us and empowers us. This is good. It doesn’t mean we can’t be change agents or risk takers. Organizations need prophets and even heretics, but they need prophets and heretics that are respectful, even gracious.

Web guru Seth Godin, as dismissive of mindless authority as anyone, says you have to earn the right to be heard.

And that always starts with respecting the other person, even if he or she is your boss.

This is part of a series on difficulties confronting college graduates in the job market. See earlier posts here.

1 thought on “showing respect in an age of rebellion”

  1. “respectful listening and questioning” — ah yes. And it’s not just the students. Last evening I appreciated your question to all of us about our first place of living. Interesting responses.

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