Respect: A very healthy tenet in the relationships among family. Often taught to us by our parents who instill in us the practice of respecting them. Then comes the practice of respecting other grown-ups around us. The fundamental understanding is that it is part of our survival. Or so I was taught.
“Respect me or I will kill you!”
It was usually just a beating but the point of the beating was to set on course the fear of death.
Let me back track. I grew up in a Cameroonian household as the youngest of eight siblings and… cousins. Here was the order:
Respect Mom and Dad
Respect the oldest sibling currently living in the house
But respect the uncles and aunties who came to visit more
Then respect the next older sibling or cousin… or friend of said sibling, cousin or friend.
The trajectory of serving respect trends upwards which means the youngest person is practically walking around with the expectation of being the most fragile while being the most grateful. Hello underdeveloped ego.
FUN FACT: except for one sibling, everyone was 12 years or more older than me.
And Oh! Respect downward? Not guaranteed. If you got respect from anyone up the chain from you, it was usually at the behest of one of my parents or both or another older sibling looking to hold another accountable. Basically, I got respect based on who didn’t want to get their ass kicked by another person up the chain. Ah the joys of being a pawn.
Now as the youngest of all, my fate was that of the baby who must be protected while being the most respectful. Now being the baby has its perks:
You got the next big piece of chicken or meat because, dad (or mom stashing it for later) gave it to you. You got the least punishment for screw-ups. You got all the hand-me-downs and if the sibling next up was fashionable, bingo!
But there was another thing. As the baby, you’re also the probably the most hated or as the elders would call it, the most spoiled. I guess watching the latest addition to the pack speak at the dinner table when you had your front teeth knocked out for laughing at the way your father chewed his food, was sufficient grounds for a snarl or two.
Truth be told, being the baby does feel good the younger you are. You don’t yet understand the world around you; dangers, threats, the actual distance to school and at times the weight of your backpack and repercussions of being loose-lipped. But the ultimate payback awaits. When sufficient understanding of actions and consequences has not yet been achieved. When you truly understand responsible accountability as opposed to just avoiding getting into trouble.
Oh yes… Maturity.
Even physical maturity, when looking at the pretty French-speaking girl next door gives you more than a tickling feeling down your pants. Yeah. It’s then that you realize, you’ve been set up! Women don’t like babies! I really thought my zipper was up!
That’s not where I wanted to go with this piece.
Time heals all wounds…
Tangent, tangent, tangent.
Let’s go back to how being a baby does not age so well.
So, Babies, respect go…
One of the worst things about being the baby is that you are put in the position of being respectful mostly out of gratitude for the perks that were bestowed upon you. Perks which you eventually age out of. (as you should)
Fun fact: Once you understand how to make a decent living and provide for yourself, let the perks go.
There’s no more protection for loose lips; you better know how to fight by now or keep your mouth shut. There’s no surprise eating out or shopping sprees from the elders; you better make your own money. There’s no whining about getting scammed by fake friends or bad dates; siblings are married with children and those come with Pandora’s box. But the expectation of grateful respect persists. Now what I’m about to say may reveal one of the following;
- either I am truly a spoiled brat
- or, being the baby was really stifling to me on some level.
- Or, shit… maybe I’m a sociopath.
Oh Buck it! So here’s the thing:
I AM TIRED OF THE GRATEFUL RESPECT RITUAL.
Sick to my stomach of it. Ok, I’m being a tat dramatic. But I am truly done! At the age of 40, I feel like I’m just lying.
I literally avoid outings where more than half the crowd is a generation older than me as my siblings were. That is the ground zero of my agitation. To walk around bowing my head before any conversation takes a toll. It is highly obsequious. This does not feel good to admit as all the people I often show such respect to are quite worthy of it by my estimation. But if at the end of night out I can’t remember having a laugh at full chest, I end up returning home feeling rather diminished.
I was a millennial among gen-xers. You know the folks who call randomly and ask questions you could have answered via text. Whose texts read like code and when leaving voicemails don’t tell you why they actually called… and if not for zoom, they would be perennially challenged by front facing cameras (oh the comments). And mom, the only living cradle of our confusion is the boomer who doesn’t know what WiFi does. It’s a generational quagmire. Usually, such familial canopy is rich in wisdom, duty and honor. If it sounds too good to be true…
So, I have to ask this question for all the youngest siblings out there.
Is it just me?
To older/oldest siblings reading this, does the respect from your youngest sibling(s) do more for your ego than for your mutual cohesion? See, upward respect is not bad at all until it becomes upward elder pseudo-worship. In fact, it can be beautiful cultural practice but as in all unexamined family dynamics, meaningful values turned burdened rituals sow resentment that strain family ties. And this discord, much like trauma, impedes growth.
Really the issue here for me is that the transactional dynamic of respect in return for providence and protection really goes awry when it is clear neither is augmented by the trade of protection for subservience. Death’s approach no longer has a clear favorite and the relationship is more apt for negotiation than expectation.
How much then can you see that you have a role to play in society, which cares not for what role you played at home but requires you to play according to your aptitude, purpose and discipline? Then the underdeveloped ego rears its ugly head undercuts your personal development in rather insidious ways.
Point here is, when there is an avoidance with loved ones not for their lack of warmth but the for the after-taste of an over-grilled bond, we have to ask… are we using the right recipe?