Why ‘Respect Your Elders’ Is An Outdated And Dangerous Phrase

“Respect your elders.”

Since the dawn of time, parents have recited this timeless phrase to get their children to behave. Even as an adult, I still hear it from older folks who consider me an insolent young whipper-snapper.

This saying has stood the test of time. We have long incorporated it into mainstream religion and the fabrics of our societies. From the moment we are born, adults expect us to listen to those who are older than us. We are told that with age comes life experience and wisdom.

In centuries past, this saying was a given.

Before the Internet and widespread access to education, we had to rely on our elders’ knowledge and experiences to learn essential life skills. But, for the first time in history, the younger generation is now more educated than the older. While that doesn’t mean we know everything the moment we graduate from college, we rely less on our elders to learn what we need to know in life.

Today, “respect your elders” is practically an artifact that generation after generation has passed down. Still, following this tradition can have damaging, dangerous consequences. Here’s why this old, seemingly harmless saying can actually do some serious harm.

It Encourages Unconditional Compliance

My parents presented “Respect your elders” to me, as a child, as an instruction to do what others told me without question. Sure, it’s important for children to listen to and respect their parents and teachers, but “respect your elders” doesn’t specify anything. It demands we respect all adults.

It’s obvious that there are plenty of evil people in the world who no-one should respect. Paedophiles and child abductors are always children’s elders, and it’s this conflicting belief that you must  “respect your elders” that causes children to ignore “don’t talk to strangers” and do as they’re told, no matter who instructs them.

The age gap between us and our elders remains today, so we carry these learned behaviours with us into adulthood. As adults, we are also less inclined to question those older than us when it really matters. This especially applies to sexual situations, political situations, and personal situations. With our rights, our resources, and our personal problems on the line, it’s important for everyone to question what anyone tell us, even if they are older than we are.

Not All Adults Deserve Respect

As millennials, the opinion of many of our elders is that we are lazy, entitled brats who spend too much money on avocados. Collectively speaking, our elders are in charge in the political sphere; catering to neo-Nazis and pushing us  towards the brink of nuclear war, but they are lambasting younger folks for avocado consumption. If we respected that opinion, we would have more respect for them than we do for ourselves, and that is unacceptable.

Everyone has their own agenda, and for some, that agenda is to feel superior. If, like me, you’re at the tail-end of your twenties, there are plenty of people older than you with that agenda. “Respect your elders” isn’t a weapon everyone uses to control those younger than them, but there are plenty who do.

“Respect your elders” is an outdated sentiment.

It gives people with bad intentions the excuse and illusion of authority to have things their way at others’ expenses. The problems this sentiment is capable of causing too heavily outweighs its value. Instead, we should give more weight to a different phrase: respect those who deserve it.

Featured Photo via Bruno Martins on Unsplash.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I respectfully disagree with this. And I will tell you why: one of my girlfriends says that our elders were young once too and so they have plenty to teach us if we just take the time to shape up and pay attention.

    • Hitler was an elder to the Hitler Youth. There are elder KKK members. Charles Manson is older than many of us…

      By your logic, these people were all young once, thus they have much to teach us and are therefore worthy of our respect.

      While I agree that we should pay attention to what life experience has taught our elders, age is not an automatic indicator that a person deserves respect. Remember that racism, sexism, and elitism are possible learned behaviors from life experience.

      Also, it is important to draw a line between lacking respect for someone and acting disrespectfully towards them, as it is completely possible to have no respect for a person’s character but still be able to maintain a cordial demeanor towards them.

  2. if anything, there should be a term about respecting people that are younger than you (especially youth), because they are the future, when the “elder” people die, the people still left are the youth of today and they determine the future because once everyone alive today dies, the people left are kids that haven’t even been born yet and they will be the next presidents, terrorists, celebrities. scientists, and people that shape the world and society for the next people after them, and after them until humans go extinct.

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