by Selwyn Duke
Everyone wants to be your buddy nowadays. Call a large business and you're likely to encounter a representative, someone who doesn't know you from Adam, who'll ask you for your first name. This is bad enough, but what's truly sickening is the habit some adults have developed whereby they allow or even encourage children to address them by their first name. I have heard of parents who obviously don't understand their status as authority figures allow their children to do this. I read about a day-care center in Manhattan, N.Y., where the employees would give adults who entered the establishment name tags on which were printed their first names. I guess some genius thought it was a good idea to encourage five year olds to treat grown-ups as peers. It has devolved to such a point that the state of Louisiana actually had to enact a law mandating that schoolchildren address teachers and other school faculty as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., sir or ma'am. Obviously, we are so taken with the idea that egalitarianism must carry the day in every setting under the sun that it has trumped our common-sense. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we bow five times upon meeting like traditional Japanese sometimes do, but I think it's time to apply some logic to this matter and understand why tradition must be respected here - especially when it concerns children.
This familiarity is justified under the pretext that it fosters friendly beginnings to relationships. If this is true though, why is it that when we meet people who we deem to be worthy of great respect we revert to being formal? After all, virtually all of us would address the president of our country as "Mr. President" - I don't think too many of us would say "Hey dude." But, if friendliness is an overriding imperative, why don't we treat such people like we do everyone else?
Clearly, there's a far greater imperative: the preservation of proper and just hierarchies within society. You see, how you address someone tells you what your role with respect to him is, and this sets the tone for your whole relationship with him. This is why those in the military don't, when on duty, address each other as Pete, John, Phillip or Steve; no, they will say Private, Sergeant, Captain or Major. This tells them what their respective duties are and how much authority they have relative to the others. It reinforces, every time underlings address superiors, the idea that they are speaking to people whose authority is greater than theirs, and this makes them more viscerally willing to obey those superiors' orders. After all, it's not human nature to listen to people who we consider to have the same status as ourselves - and it's not human nature to regard those with whom we've become overly familiar to have greater status. This is what is alluded to by that old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt."
So it is with children; children need to learn, and learn a lot. But before they can learn they have to be willing to listen, and before they'll be willing to listen they have to respect the person to whom they're supposed to listen. But while children may feel peer pressure, they don't "listen" [in the sense of "obey"] to their peers. And, if you allow them to address you in the manner in which they address their peers, they'll regard you, in some measure, as a peer - this will make them less likely to listen to you and this will redound negatively upon your ability to teach them. Almost as important, is how YOU address them; we have developed a bad habit nowadays of addressing children as "guys." What's the problem with this? Well, we tend to call our adult friends "guys," so, addressing kids thusly once more sends the message that they are our peers. Children should be referred to by their names, as "children" or as "boys and/or girls." This sends them the correct message that adults occupy a higher place in society's hierarchy and have just authority over them, and this helps to engender in them a respect for and a willingness to listen to adults.
It's important to remember that words influence thoughts and behavior. What you say to someone should reflect the role that you play with respect to him - be it friend, superior or underling. If you have a responsibility to exercise just authority over someone but your words are incongruent with your position, they will negate your authority to some degree. The consequences of this can be dire, especially with children because it will lessen your ability to mold them into moral beings. This is a high price for them to have to pay just so we can pat ourselves on the back and revel in how egalitarian we are.