'Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no-one idolised' - Einstein
Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, and being reared by those who grew up in the ’40s and ’50s, was a challenge at best.
Back then, before the internet messed everything up, adults had their propaganda machine working perfectly. In those days adults were in charge and youngsters had to toe the line. Of course this would have been a recipe for disaster if the adults were abusive, and would take advantage of their authority to prey on the young people in their care.
The strong, after all, should always protect and serve the weak, without thought of acknowledgement or reward.
In those days we were taught to respect those older than ourselves. Most respect was due to the aged or to people who were grandparents. Adults and our parents, uncles and aunts were next in the pecking order. This was followed by older siblings and cousins
Essentially we knew our place.
It all worked out beautifully though, when bullies tried to grind a youngster’s head into the cement on the playground it was handy for them to have an older brother or cousin nearby.
It was even better to have a parent or granny who lived nearby who’d storm through the school’s gates in her gown and slippers, with curlers in her hair to sort out the bullies. I actually witnessed this happen on several occasions.
We were taught to respect all adults, whether they wore a tie to work or a blue overall. Of course our old friend apartheid blurred the lines quite a bit and it was common to hear children referring to the grey-haired man working outside as the “garden boy”, and for them to call the woman doing the washing a “wash-girl”.
We’d learn to respect the mayor, but also his driver.
We’d have to respect the principal, but also the caretaker. It’s as if all the adults were shaken out of their boxes and we’d be expected to respect them just because they were human, not because of the position they occupied or the bank balance they could brag about.
Now put yourself in the shoes of someone with a mindset like this attending a high-brow formal function. Everything is going along quite well until the call goes out: “The MEC has arrived!”
Pale-faced people suddenly start rushing around as this important person enters the venue. Members of his protection detail walk attentively alongside him and the organisers of the event fawn over him, pronouncing themselves willing to cater to his every need as required by protocol.
I also imagine that this very same important person would have to fold over backward if a more senior person told him to as protocol requires, of course.
One day, some years back, I was startled when two black SUVs roared into the parking area of one of our city’s malls, blue lights flashing. I thought that someone had been tipped off about a heist or something equally thrilling.
But imagine my disappointment when it turned out to only be a highly-placed official out to do her shopping with her bodyguards in tow.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that a provincial premier, an MEC, a director, councillor, mayor, chancellor, principal or those of similar stature deserve respect, but I also hold to two things that Albert Einstein is credited to have said.
Firstly, he said that everyone should be respected as an individual, but no-one idolised; and then also: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
For as I stated earlier: “The strong should always protect and serve the weak, without thought of acknowledgement or reward.”