Since I have never participated in a critique group, and don’t really know what it is, I decided to use the script from a previous episode of my Internet Radio Show, “An Average Woman in a Superwoman World”. I think it covers my concern about how people view being ‘critiqued’ today. I wasn’t sure where to cut it up, so I just let it all hang out here!
Disrespect. It is, in our lives today, a noun, verb, adjective and practically a legal defense for murder and mayhem. It has become the excuse for all manner of bad behavior and a reason to drive down a residential street with guns blazing. So I want to talk about why we all have so much DIS on the brain, and whether or not it is doing us any good.
It is said that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and I think it is also true of Disrespect. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Disrespect is Rude Behavior. And that is what I grew up believing. If you were rude to someone older than you, you were being disrespectful, and you got punished for it. If your boss was telling you that you performed poorly, and you started shouting back at him, you were being disrespectful. If your parents told you what to do and you snapped back at them, you were being disrespectful. It was an ‘action/reaction’ thing. You knew what it was, and you knew that you shouldn’t do it. It was really pretty clear.
Additionally, in the world I grew up in, the other people around you also operated on the same basic principal. You really didn’t encounter disrespect – at least I didn’t. If you were in a store, and you treated the person behind the counter in a considerate fashion, you didn’t encounter a disrespectful attitude. If you called your doctor’s office and asked a civil question, you were treated with politeness, not discourteousness. The world seemed to understand that courtesy was the oil that lubricated the interactions of society. As long as we avoided being disrespectful, the engine of our society didn’t seize up and start throwing rods and pistons about the place. And, as far as I remember, it worked really well.
I am sure that there were the statistically average number of murders, assaults and civil suits. But by and large, I can honestly say that it worked the way I was raised to expect – if you don’t act disrespectfully, no one treated you with disrespect.
Fast forward to now. I don’t know how I missed out on the Revolution – maybe I was busy raising children and working, but I seem to have woken up in the new Millennium with unrealistic expectations.
In this brave new world of ours, the word Disrespect has become its own life form – an amorphous blob, not having a defined shape, but used in ways we never really envisioned. It is used as an excuse for almost every kind of behavior today, and the list just keeps on growing.
Today, you have people explaining that they decided to key another person’s car because “She disrespected me”. When asked what does that mean, their answer can be anything from “she looked at me the wrong way” to “she spoke to my boyfriend” to “she didn’t agree with me”. While this is just a simple example, it pretty much describes what is going on. Every weekend, it seems like the morning news is reporting on yet another drive by shooting by yet another car full of young men, shooting at other young men or their homes, all because someone disrespected them in some way. You Tube can offer you any number of videos of young girls beating each other in school hallways, tearing out each other’s hair and stomping each other’s heads, because of being disrespected. You see cell phone videos of people stepping right up into the face of some hapless fast food worker, throwing cash registers and jumping over counters, because of feeling disrespected. The list goes on and on, full of gunshots, road rage incidents, and children murdering their entire families. I think that this is somehow not what is meant by ‘rude behavior’.
Instead of people thinking of disrespect as rude behavior, it has reached the level of a commandment – the 11th commandment in today’s world – Thou Shalt Not Disrespect Me – and, by the way, I will decide just what that means depending on how I feel at that moment. A pretty long commandment, and not exactly as clear as the other 10 – in fact, it is pretty much guaranteed to make you fail at it, because you will never know just how that person feels at that exact moment you encounter them. You just better hope that you don’t disrespect them.
I have spent a fair amount of time wondering why this is happening, and I don’t know if I have any exceptional clarity, but I think I have a few ideas. I think that a lot of it comes from a feeling of being Disenfranchised – another Dis word, and a big way of saying that we all feel like we just aren’t being heard or considered. And it gets old. Really old.
I recently experienced my own “Disrespect” episode, and had a flash of insight. I don’t know whether it is because of my age, or because there is something inherently annoying about me, but I have repeatedly encountered discourtesy, impoliteness, ungraciousness and inconsideration when contacting my doctor’s office. All of those words are synonyms for disrespect. But I didn’t really feel ‘disrespected’ until recently. I did distinctly think of those synonyms each and every time I called on the phone and spoke to the office personnel. But I never connected it with disrespect until just a couple of weeks ago. And the flash of real anger, hurt and confusion I felt screamed “I am being disrespected”.
While my response was not to scream, or to fight, or to fire bomb the building, I did feel, for a few minutes, that I understood the impulse to do so. I was so shocked by my own reaction that I wanted to take it apart and see what had happened. After all, I don’t want to act like an idiot, and I really hate confrontation. But what the heck happened that made me so upset?
At first, I felt confused. I was being polite and explaining what was, to me, a genuine situation that required assistance from their office. When I was responded to by being interrupted, lectured and marginalized, I started to feel hurt. I was not giving this person a hard time, I truly needed their help. When the young lady on the other end of the phone started talking to me like I was a 5 year old, I started to feel really pissed off. I believe I have sweaters older than she is, and she hadn’t even listened to what I was saying before implying that I was annoying, stupid and a real bother. I continued to try to be polite, and was directed to call a voice mail. Now I was feeling really angry. This was no way to treat a polite, paying CUSTOMER. Because folks, if you are paying every paycheck for medical coverage and part of that money is going every month to the doctor who is your primary physician, and you pay your copays for office visits, you may be a patient, but you are also a customer. They may be just as happy if you found another doctor, but if that’s the way they feel, then just say so. Until then, you are a paying customer, and the least you should be able to expect is that someone will let you finish a sentence.
Ok – I’m starting to feel that disrespect affect. Let’s kick it down a notch here. It happened again, just talking about it. Feeling Disrespected.
What that really meant was that I felt like no one was bothering to listen when I had something to say I felt was important. It meant I expected to be treated with courtesy and was treated like I was a bother. I was made to feel less than unimportant by someone who, I felt, should treat me at least with politeness. I was nothing. I didn’t matter.
And that, I think, is the root of the problem.
Last week, I talked about how there is so much noise in the world around us that we feel like we can’t be heard. Like no one can hear us over that noise. We scream louder and all that happens is that more noise gets heaped on the pile. We go unheard, unrecognized, ignored. And it hurts.
Just like the kid in school who gets bullied every day, and no one helps, and no one hears him cry – it hurts when we are ignored. We hate to be ignored.
Sure, not everything we have to say is noteworthy. Just spend a few minutes looking at a Twitter page, and you can see much of what is said can remain unsaid. And with all that STUFF being said, no one can really pick out the important points. It’s just too hard to parse out the main points from the schmutz.
But it hurts when we have something that really matters to us, and we get treated like just another Twitter tweet. Or worse. We feel hurt, which in these times becomes a feeling of being disrespected, and we get angry. Oh boy, do we get angry. Because it happens so often all day long. We are angry because the kid at the register in the CVS barely grunted at us when we asked a question. What we probably don’t know is that he is feeling disrespected by his boss, or his parents, or his teacher, so he is already feeling the disrespect affect. It gets paid forward – over and over again – in all our everyday encounters, until we reach the boiling point.
I devoutly hope that we all don’t reach the point of picking up a bootleg AK47 and hitting the mall parking lot. But at this stage, it seems like there are just too many people out there who have felt this anger for so long who were never taught to use the “Off” switch on their emotions. As a middle aged person, I am thankful that I grew up in an age when we were taught to use our “Off” switch – and taught how important it is to have one in the first place. But there is at least one, maybe two, generations out there who don’t seem to be aware of their Off Switch – and who wouldn’t believe they had to use it if they had one. They only know that they have ‘rights’ and if they don’t get what they want or aren’t treated the way they expect to be treated, they are disrespected and they have the right to act any damn way they please.
Am I the only one who finds this really scary?
So, now that I have tried to find out what the real problem is, do I have any answers on how to fix it? Good question. I’m not exactly sure. I know I want to have an answer. I know I really REALLY would like to figure out how to fix it. The difficulty here is that some things can’t just be ‘fixed’ the way you would fix a missing button, or a burned out light bulb. That kind of thinking is another legacy of our media soaked world today. We see huge problems in 15 minute sound bites, and expect answers and fixes. We expect fixes – we don’t hope for them, or work towards them, or discuss ways to accomplish them. We just expect them, and we expect someone else to do it.
Really? Who? How? Waiting for someone else to fix the problem, and waiting to hear about it in the next episode of our local news soap opera hasn’t worked. Usually the reaction to the lack of ‘closure’ is for us to feel more overwhelmed, more angry, and more disrespected – because the problem is still there, we said it was there, and no one fixed it.
I refuse to be overwhelmed by this problem. Just like I refused to be overwhelmed by the feeling of disrespect I felt in my own encounter with a rude person.
I may be a one short woman embarking on an unreasonable quest, but I think that disrespect can be healed by respect. I have noticed that when someone respects themselves, they aren’t as likely to react with anger to another person’s rude behavior. They may raise an eyebrow. They may smile and clear their throat before making a request in a calm, steady voice. They may take their business elsewhere. But they don’t go off the deep end because they feel disrespected.
I have also noticed that most people, when treated with common courtesy or respect, will return the favor and be considerate in return. In fact, I have many customers who comment that the reason they like to shop in our store is because they are treated with respect and courtesy. We don’t try to pressure them to buy something. We don’t tell them something looks good when it doesn’t. We don’t look at them and tell them we don’t have anything that will fit them, and make them feel unattractive. We listen. We ask questions to find out what they want. We smile and ask if they are comfortable. We treat them the way we wish we were treated. And in return, they treat us with consideration.
None of this is rocket science, at least to me. It is what I was taught as a child by the world around me. It is what I was taught to expect. It works – when everyone is playing by the same rules. I don’t know where I was when the rules changed, but I sure wish we could change them back again! Because most people today seem to expect to be disrespected, and so they start out with the attitude that they are just waiting for it to happen. And sometimes, even if you are respectful to them, they don’t know how to handle it.
Be that as it may, if making an effort to put respect back into our lives will stop one drive by shooting, or prevent one act of road rage, or just make one elderly person feel like they still have a place in the world, I think it’s worth trying. And whether or not I’m on the right track, I think I’ll make the time to keep respect in my life and use it whenever possible.
Sandi Tuttle is the host of the Blog Talk Radio show “An Average Woman in a Superwoman World” (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sandi-tuttle).