A Little Respect

From http://masalamommas.com

In a conversation with a good friend who was born and raised in India, we had one of those east vs. west discussions.  I think it’s natural to always defend the values of where you were raised to a certain degree, for me I was raised in the west, but had an Indian father and thus spent time with many Indian friends and relatives as well as having been to India a couple times so I’d like to believe that I can look at both sides objectively and see the best and worst of both worlds.

This particular discussion was about family values.  My friend argued about the lack of family values here in the west, specifically the lack of respect for one’s

parents.  I think even a lot of parents here might support her claim.  In India there is a lot more respect for parents and the elderly in general.  Before evaluating whether or not such statements are even true, let’s perhaps breakdown some factors that might be important in the different attitudes of children in the west vs. east.  (Note here in the east I will be focusing about India, but India does share similar values with other countries in Asia towards family and parenting, and for the west mostly U.S.A and Canada).

In the west we might attribute a lack of respect to the following:

  • Both parents working meaning less time to spend, discipline, and guide children
  • In the west there is a general rejection towards authority, government, and hierarchy
  • High divorce rate
  • Highly valuing individualism over collectivism
  • A tendency to be more mobile and not living very close to family
  • A long history of a strong economy allowing for greater financial independence at advanced ages

In the east we might attribute greater respect to the following

  • Relatively low divorce rate because of the emphasis towards arranged marriage, binding families and resources over an emphasis on romantic love
  • Like many nations that have had historically high poverty rates (although India is an economic powerhouse now) have created a system in which there was simply no plan for the elderly to be taken care of should they become unable to take care of themselves. Thus grown children are expected to take care of their parents financially when they can no longer work.
  • High population density and again the historically weaker economy means people are less likely to leave the area near where their parents live
  • Less job opportunities for women historically and thus allowing many women to remain at home giving more time for discipline and guidance. This also reduces the amount of retirement money that would come into a home when the parents are older

I am sure there are probably others, but honestly I feel like a weaker economy historically and a lack of social security and retirement plans for older people has created a system over time that required closer family unity.

But regardless of the reason let’s take a look at whether or not it is actually true whether or not there is an actual difference of respect.  First of all I have never actually seen a study that proves this is true.  Certainly there are many studies that talk about the differences in behavior culturally between young and old, or parents and their children.  However none of those studies really measure respect.  The dictionary defines respect as the following:

“A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”

It seems to me the first error in this discussion is that maybe we aren’t talking about respect, but duty, or obligation.  I guess it could be respect if say “abilities” involves the ability to parent a child, but that’s a bit of a stretch, given that even a weak ability in raising a child can get one to adulthood.  So respect seems to be something different and it is not clear whether there is a difference between east and west. A soldier in the military can follow the orders of a superior out of duty, but still not respect that superior.

I have known numerous Indian children who were given little freedom in choosing what they wanted to be, who they can marry, how they want to marry, etc.  Well I’m not saying they obeyed purely out of duty, because clearly there is love there as well,  but I do know some children who resented their parents for taking advantage of that sense of duty and love to set them on a course in life that they did not want.  It’s somewhat questionable to me how much respect there was.   They often did what they were told even though they were unhappy about it.  Parents in the east would do well to recognize that their kids are not simply extensions of themselves but individuals.

On the other hand, parenting is not really easy.  It’s easy to doubt yourself and your actions.  A lot of times you might just default to what your parents did to

From http://blogspot.com

you instead of really adopting a practice you are not comfortable with.  Raising kids takes time, energy, and resources.  Kids growing up in western culture would do well to remember that and appreciate more often the sacrifices and difficulties associated with raising them.  However, does not listening to your parents indicate a lack of respect for them? If we value individuality as a nation, isn’t likely that your child is simply expressing that individuality.  This can be hard when you see them making mistakes, especially the same ones we made.  But isn’t that how we also learned some important lessons.  Again, just because a kid chooses to ignore your advice and do their own thing, doesn’t mean there is a lack of respect, it just means they feel more compelled to exercise their own judgment right or wrong and see where it leads them.

Whether it’s duty or respect, I asked myself after the conversation with my friend, why did I have a child?  Was it so I could raise somebody who would listen

From http://www.childandfamilymentalhealth.com

to everything I had to say about what to do in the world?  Was it so I could instantly have someone who respected me regardless of my flaws, weaknesses, and the way that I treated him/her?  The answer of course is no, but what is absolutely wonderful about the parent – child relationship is that it begins with love.  There is an implicit trust and affection built in, and so we only have to think how best to foster and grow that love from the simple biological relationship to the complex relationship that binds any two people together.  As I watch my son grow I can already see his sense of self forming, and I know it will only get stronger with time.  It seems that we always have to remember that respect runs both ways with our children and I hope I have the wisdom to know when to let him express his individuality even if it runs against my better judgment and my need to remain his protector.  Being able to let go is also a quality worthy of respect and it seems to make some sense that as children grow the qualities that they admire in you and others change.  I hope that I will be able to grow along with him and adapt to his changing needs and desires while remaining an ever present part of his life.

While there are differences between east vs. west parent – child relationship I don’t think any one of those is a better way of doing things.  Respect is always earned and I think it is best earned when a parent demonstrate an ability to understand what their children are going through and by constantly being there for their child.  I think this is what builds a lasting respect between parent and child.

 

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11 thoughts on “A Little Respect

  1. Interesting post. As you pointed out, respect probably has a different meaning between cultures and things like obedience, honesty, and loyalty are valued differently by parents in different cultures.

    It has been my experience in eastern countries that people are extremely loyal and respectful to those in their family, but to strangers or especially those considered beneath them, disrespect or even contempt seems the norm. That’s not acceptable in western society. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Promoting intrinsic and universal human value inherently decreases the value we place on family. It’s the first law of thermodynamics: matter can neither be created nor destroyed only transfered to a different state. So if something matters to me more, then something else must matter less.

    Q.E.D.

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    1. That’s interesting about China, and in some ways I agree with you, but I guess it isn’t obvious to me that there is a conservation of respect law! First I think there are simply different ways to show respect, just like there are different ways to reveal a lot of emotions, like love for instance. Since we tend to give love in a way that is meaningful us, it doesn’t always end up being received in the same way as intended since people tend to view love in different ways. As I blogged about before I believe the emotions we feel, I believe have no limit, but the conservation laws do apply to time and energy. These are finite. As you are probably experiencing right now, you have a new child and the amount of love you have in your heart has increased. But the time you have to spend with Evelyn is simply less than it was. It has to be. It doesn’t mean you love her less. So I think you can have a greater respect for humanity, while still having an equal amount of respect for those in your family, you just can’t show it as often as you’d perhaps like.

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      1. Meatloaf knew what he was talking, I mean singing, about when he said, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” Perhaps philosophically, love has no bounds, but from a utilitarian point of view, everything is finite. Love often ends where addictions begin: alcohol, pornography, work.

        With the arrival of my son, I spend less time with my daughter, am often interrupted, and am more easily distracted when I do spend time with her. From a “boots on the ground” perspective, I love her less. I believe the benefits of having a sibling outweigh the costs for her and for us, but there is still a cost, just as there was a cost for my marriage when we first had our daughter.

        Because respect is loosely defined, I would say that there is a conservation of what matters law. For example, you’re at a restaurant with your dad when he gets in an argument, loudly, with the waiter about something. You know that the waiter is right, but there are a lot of competing values that will determine what you do. Of course, there are ways to make it easier or harder for everyone involved, but ultimately you must choose.

        I might be wrong, but I think I remember listening to a radio show about Gandhi, where they basically said he wasn’t a very good father. Here was someone who had incredible respect for humanity, but his family paid a high price.

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        1. I only think you are able to show your love less. You don’t love her less. But I am not going to presume your feelings. I only know that for me when I think about the people I love in my life, having additional people that I feel love for is not a problem. Being able to spend time and demonstrate how I feel is the problem. I think it could easily be argued that you demonstrate your love for Evelyn by giving her sibling. You also demonstrate love for your wife by creating another life. These are all valuable things to Evelyn in her development. Thus once again the ways in which love are revealed are not always easy to see. And the same is probably true for respect.

          I also read that about Gandhi, but I don’t remember specifically what the complaints were. Sure given his activities he would have literally been unable to spend much time with them. But if one is trying to create a better country for your children along with everyone else does that make them a bad father? Perhaps under conventional criteria sure, but I am sure his children have benefitted by knowing his courage, his vigilance, his love of humanity. That being said he simply might not have been a very good father even if he had not become the man he was. We don’t know that it is because of his crusade for an independent India that made him not very good at raising children.

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  2. ryan59479

    Very interesting post! Growing up I had a lot of friends who were first generation, and still lived a “traditional” family life here in the states with their foreign-born parents. Most of these friends were from either India or China. I have to say, I have seen that sense of loyalty or duty “exploited” for want of a better term. One of my best friends, whose parents are from India, wanted nothing more than to work in film. He wanted to be a film editor as I recall. He ended up becoming a doctor because that’s what his parents wanted him to be. Despite not being able to pursue his true passion, I would say that he’s overall pretty happy with his life and does not resent his parents. But that’s all an anecdotal aside to say that even though I don’t understand that through my cultural lens, it apparently didn’t do anything to screw up their family dynamic.

    Ultimately, though, I’m not left wondering about the difference between east and west, but rather why “family values” should even matter at all, in any society. Regardless of how the values change from culture to culture, the common theme seems to be that for some reason “family values” are important. That seems to be what your friend was arguing, and that’s the position that the “moral majority” here in the states takes as well. But I’m often left wonder, to what end?

    Where is the evidence that growing up with “family values” results in a more upstanding or moral person? The family is undoubtedly an important influence on a child, but I don’t think it’s the most important. I know plenty of people here in our western culture who grow up with “family values” who feel repressed and boxed in and then go nuts when they finally get freedom from their family. I tend to think that blindly accepting and following your parents conditions one to blindly accept all authority–from your workplace, for the school, from church, from government, etc. There might be some value in that somewhere. I’m sure there is. But overall, I don’t think that value outweighs the consequences of growing up to obey authority. I don’t think questioning your parents is a sign of disrespect; nobody is perfect, even parents.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I’ll admit that a lot of my observations are anecdotal. And resentment that I saw was not lifelong resentment. I mean at some point you have to accept the life you have if you care about being happy. Living a life of regret is a choice, and usually not a healthy one. Relationships with parents went back to normal. At least seemingly. But it also made me think a bit about your indoctrination post while I was writing. If you convince a child that your way is always best from the beginning, than a child will believe that, and even if they fight you, they are more likely to accept what you think is right over what they think is right.

      I think it’s difficult to point to the direct consequence of “family values” but I think it also can’t be discounted. After all you spend almost the entirety of your formative years with family. It influences a lot of how one behaves in relationships, one’s attitude towards others, one’s worldview. A relationship with a sibling may be one’s first real relationship with someone similar in age. Relationship with parents can be our first experience with an authority figure. And there are good and bad authority figures obviously, but evolutionarily speaking we do have a “default to authority chip in our brain”, which is probably why God is such a pervasive ideas. Certainly there are other influences that help our shape be different from our family, but from a probability point of view I think you could take a pretty good look at the character of the parents and predict the behavior of child. You’ll be wrong sometimes, but most of the time you will be correct. So I think there is value to a nurturing family environment. Doesn’t have to be a man and a woman, and it could be a stepfather or stepmother, or obviously adoptive parents of any kind. But I agree that often the term “family values” gets used in a blanket, sort of, “you should just love family or your a bad person” kind of way. Anytime we say that we should keep people intimately connected to our lives simply because of the role they play is probably a bit unhealthy.

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      1. Something I’ve been thinking about lately, and your “default to authority chip” quote makes me think about it again: Now that Evelyn is approaching three, teaching obedience is becoming more important, but at the same time I like to see some amount of rebellion. I don’t want to send out more sheeple, after all. It has made me aware of the conflict, namely that I can’t raise her to be obedient to me and also question authority. Fortunately, her default to authority chip seems to be broken, so this may be something I don’t need to worry about.

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  3. Excellent repartee!! Your last sentence brought most of this banter (many great thoughts to this winding conversation) home.
    Parents have great influence and thankfully many of us see a boarder horizon once we flee or fly from the nest. We have a set of values with which to look at and agree or disagree.
    I grew up in Europe, and being the only adopted child in military venue, I got to see a plethora of families interacting. Not having the family, I longed for the European culture where every Sunday 20-30 family members would gather, from great (maybe greater) grandparents to the newborns. And this is where I would often invite myself as a child of 8-12 to these individual homes.
    I saw and experienced value in their intimacies and gathers, caring about each and the disagreements. I saw weak and strong parents and viewed how the children would bow or speak their mind in all incidents and the repercussions. I saw the parents being cared for in their old age and not put into homes. This was to their death with great honor.
    Life has changed, although I did not observe Asian or Indian culture directly, just as I rebelled against some of the authority in my family, I would see to being evicted by such of the cultural ways for the females in those cultures.
    When giving love to multiple people (I am childless and the only family I have had for 40 years has been animal in nature), my view is I love each being differently; not less or more, rather differently for they affect me differently in my life. My purpose in remaining childless was a conscious one and with gratitude my decision remains steadfast.
    However, my friends for the most part all come with lots of family members. As suggested to one friend recently – all the friends accumulated – died or lived over the decades are my family. This allows me great freedom and to have less drama. Is this cheating, no, another way of living life.
    Each response here has been a wonderful peek into another part of the world through individual lenses. Thanks!!

    And Swarn you wrote: ” have someone who respected me regardless of my flaws, weaknesses, and the way that I treated him/her?””
    My immediate answer would be, “get a dog” lol As an ex-therapist, I have had clients in my office and the only reason they had a child was for that child to love them unconditionally. Huge burden placed on that child.
    Cheers

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  4. Ann Cute picture and I agree with you, Swarn this is an excellent post and the continuation of the what you have stated along with your blog/friends has been an enjoyable read.
    This post has been wonderful for me to learn of another side life, named family. Thank you for your perspective and sharing with others.
    And to Swarn’s friends, you have also enlighten me immensely. To your current families and how you grew up in families. Wonderful

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  5. Great post – very interesting to see the topic from a cultural poit of view as well. Having spent a little bit of time in a ‘eastern’ community I agree strongly that the emphasis on individuality/community makes a pretty staggering difference.

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