Does respect really need to be earned?






I have a special place in my heart for outdoor ice rinks. In the small Ontario town where I grew up, the local skating rink was a meeting place for tweens and teens from early November right through to March. With no smartphones or computers, limited use of a landline and few channels on the TV, it just didn’t make sense to stay inside when the thrill of outdoor fun was a short drive away. We were dropped off by parents who knew we would be safe, with just enough money to buy a hot chocolate. It was where we connected, hung out, gossiped, flirted and, although we didn’t realize it, stayed fit and avoided obesity.

The rink of my youth is no longer there. Warmer winters and fluctuating temperatures make it near impossible to keep a natural rink frozen these days. But an artificial rink has taken its place and with the same rural setting of birches and pines, it looks almost authentic. It’s managed by the town and, to make it fair for everyone, hockey players alternate with family skaters every other day. I took my kids skating there on Christmas Eve, which was designated as a family skating day.

We arrived at the rink to a hockey game in full swing. Disgruntled parents told me that the hockey players – all teenage boys – had been asked to leave but had refused. A few adults and older kids were braving it out on the small patch of the ice surface that wasn’t absorbed by the hockey game but many families stood on the sidelines, unwilling to risk the wrath of flying pucks.

After an enthusiastic goalie collided with a young girl, tensions came to a head and a profanity-laced shouting match ensued. As a visitor from “the big city”, I glided into the heart of the hockey game, reminded them that it wasn’t a hockey day and asked them to leave. The biggest of the players, a hulking boy of about 17, looked at me and said, “We just want a little respect”.

I was momentarily stunned as this response was the last thing I expected. I calmly explained that they weren’t respecting the rules of the rink. He said that they knew this but they still expected to be treated with respect and didn’t appreciate being yelled or sworn at and if the families had shown them respect they would have left earlier. At this, a few of the other hockey players gathered around echoing their leader’s sentiments that they are good kids who just wanted a little respect.

My inside voice said, “You don’t deserve respect and you certainly haven’t earned it,” but, in the interest of the end goal and unwilling to appear like an old codger, I smiled sweetly and said, “Well I am asking you respectfully to leave now.” It worked. They packed up and went on their way.

Teenagers behaving badly is nothing new. Pushing boundaries, breaking the rules, being self-absorbed is part of the teenage DNA and I was the same when I was that age. The difference is, my friends and I never expected respect and we certainly didn’t expect it when we were acting like jerks. We didn’t get any respect but we really didn’t care. We had no notion that it was our entitlement and we seemed to get along just fine without it. Then again, we weren’t exposed to reality shows where spoiled, self-absorbed people are celebrated for embarrassing themselves.

30 years later, I still cling to an old-fashioned notion that respect must be earned but I think it dates me. I asked a 20-something friend about this and he said respect doesn’t need to be earned and everyone is worthy of respect until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve it, a kind of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach. This seemed very tolerant and inclusive and characteristic of the millennials but it was hazy to me.

What do you think? Is it time to shelf the old ‘respect should be earned’ mantra?

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