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R-E-S-P-E-C-T (and "The Second Question")  RSS feed

 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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I was brought up hearing the phrase, "Respect your elders". You may have heard it often, too. Maybe, that's still widely taught today, being etched in the brains of our youth. "Respect your elders." It sounds like a lovely thing to say, or at least it did.

Considering those words, as an adult and analyzing them at this point in my life, I would have to disagree with the sentiment. I am polite, friendly, kind, helpful... to (almost) anyone I encounter, but does age, "elders", "the elderly" entitle you the honor of respect? Are you worthy? There are many people, older than I, to whom respect is not due, as I have seen the nature of their character.

"Respect is something which is commanded, not demanded." That, which I heard somewhere through the decades, is something that I do believe. And, it leads me to that (ahem) "second question".

Whenever I meet someone new it surprises me that it usually goes like this, "Hello. My name is Sam (Bill, Sue,Tom...). What's your name?" And, "What do you do?" There it is, that second question. It rolls off the tongue, as if part of a script. Sounds like a harmless little question, huh? For most people, I think they ask it because it just seems to be the norm in "polite conversation" these days. However, this question gives the person asking it fodder for judging you, your worthiness and respectfulness based on your employment position. There are, unfortunately, people who have respect for others based so heavily on the job/profession they have chosen. Upon answering this question, your value is assessed and you are filed into their mental respect spectrum.

You hear stories in the news of priest found guilty of rape, policemen brutally attacking citizens and other people in (what are regarded by some as) respectful posts, who are not worthy of respect themselves. Why are we so defined by what work we do? And, oh my, were any of these people elders?

I have been employed by a variety of businesses through the years and I owned my own business for several years. I have chosen not to work a public job since I sold my business. I find it laughable that my self worth could be based on having worked at any of these jobs. I see eyebrows raise when I say that I have now chosen to stay home and become more self-sufficient.

A friend of mine works for our town's Sanitation Department. I have seen him answer the question, "What do you do?" He lowers his head and says, "I drive a trash truck." He lowers his head because someone, somewhere, raised an eyebrow at him and the respect-o-meter in that person's brain registered his worth as a person based on his J,O,B. Think where the U.S. would be without its sanitation workers. Wow!

I can't remember a time where I've asked "the second question". I may be standing alone in my opinion here, but I don't really care where a person works. I usually figure out where people work when they offer bits of information into conversation. Then I, most times, realize their jobs sound as boring as ones I've had. Some friends, I haven't a clue where they're employed or if they work at all. I, usually, see these friends on weekends where talk of jobs is an unwelcome topic anyway. A family member asked me once, how could I be friends with a fashion model and the homeless man I had taken in and treat them both the same. It's easy. I find both these people enjoyable to be with; decent, kind and giving human beings; both equally worthy of my respect.

"Hello. My name is Karen. What's your name?"
"Sam, it's nice to meet you."










 
Rebecca Norman
gardener
Posts: 1274
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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Haha, in India the questions asked of foreigners are slightly different, but they serve the exact same purpose of slotting a stranger into the respect hierarchy.

1) Your country madam!

2) You are married?
If no: But you are getting old, your chances are reducing year by year, yadda yadda yadda.
If yes:

3) You have children?
If no: A long lecture on how your life is worthless, and who is going to take care of you when your older, and ... oh my god they can go on and on! Tune it out.
If yes: Questions about what your husband does, etc. Mixed nationality marriages are never assumed even if you make it clear. Mixed marriages are barely even believed. Perhaps they make you drop off the respect hierarchy.

After more than 20 years I am still amazed that people in this country so clearly slot a person as being a normal and productive member of society only if they marry conventionally and reproduce. I also am amazed at the number of perfect strangers who seem to really care and feel their universe is disturbed if they meet someone who doesn't have and doesn't want children. I've had this lecture from taxi drivers, people in the next seat on an airplane, and even a soldier I shared shelter from the rain with for a few minutes. Ironically the Prime Minister, almost a cult figure among the Hindu right-wing, calls himself a bachelor (though there is a long-suffering abandoned wife, apparently)

Seriously! I prefer "What do you do?" 100 times to this!

With westerners, who sometimes don't like the What do you do question, I sometimes try to ask "What are you interested in?" But because it is unconventional it seems much deeper and more difficult to answer than I mean it.

Karen, what would you suggest for a second question or conversation starter? Some remark on the immediate circumstances?
 
Karen Donnachaidh
pollinator
Posts: 834
Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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I like your "What are you interested in?" You could also say "Tell me a bit about yourself." Those leave it to the person asked as to what they are comfortable sharing, instead of putting them on the spot.

I, too, get the "Are you married?" question often. And, as you can imagine, I get lots of strong reactions when I share that we've been together 21 years but are not married. There seems to be the strongest negative reaction from older women. It bothers me sometimes that it's mostly the woman who gets asked (and judged) and not so often the men.
 
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