Why ‘Respect Your Elders’ Is An Outdated And Dangerous Phrase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

40 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.

      • Respecting your elders is different than listening to and following exactly what they say. Respect is more than just listen and follow. Respect, in certainly n cases, could also mean teaching, informing, or training them as well.

    • Totally agree. People will find anything to argue about. In general you should respect your elders.
      Leviticus 19:32
      “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

      Proverbs 19:20
      Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

      Most elders are just attempting to help you not make the same mistake they made. Still have the strange danger but elders you know. You should treat them with respect until given a reason not to. How many books have y’all sold? This book that’s sold more copies than any other book in history states I should respect my elders.

      • Anyone who quote Leviticus in this day and age goes beyond feeling of debating respect to scaring the **** out of me.
        These are vile antiquated dominance structures the serve only those who wrote it. The values of elders were often oppressive and should not be imposed on those who want a fairer, kinder world. If nothing changed we would still be drowning women as witches for being practicing herbalists. Perhaps we should sell our youngest daughters into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7 perhaps we should stone the local farmer for planting different crops side by side? I imagine perhaps as a good bible follower and quote you consider homosexuality an abomination. Yes delightful traditional values that persist from the dutiful and respectful position of never questioning our elders.

  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.

  3. If the older generation has a problem with our supposed avocado consumption, why don’t they just shut up and continue eating their scrambled eggs with bacon?

  4. RESPECT IS BASED ON ACCOMPLISHMENT, usually earned and not just given. The reason one should respect their elders is because your elders have accomplished something you haven’t.

    YOU ELDERS HAVE LIVED LIFE LONG ENOUGH TO BE YOUR ELDER! You may not recognize it today but that Elder has not only accomplished living his life but likely lived through everyday of your life, you cannot say the same.

    • I agree 100% Richard Brunelle. I don’t understand why my generation can’t accept this fact. It should come natural to respect your elders anyways. It will never be outdated, it doesn’t matter if I don’t need to rely on them anymore. My elders will always have more personal life experience that no internet can give you.

      • listening to what elders have to say and share is different than not respecting someone. Not respecting someone is different from disrespecting them. If my mom and dad suddenly came into my room and shit talks me and tells me how to behave or whatever bc i got upset at something, they would lose some of my respect bc they would be disrespecting me by shit talking. If they had simply not shit talked and had only told me how to behave and that type of stuff kindly, i would not lose my respect for them. IT ISN’T ABOUT THE EXPERIENCES THAT THEY HAVE VS THE INTERNET. IT’S ABOUT HOW THEY ARE TREATING YOU WHILE THEY ARE DOING SO. Even if i don’t respect them, i would still not disrespect them and listen to what they have kindly. Again, those are 2 different things and some people no matter of age don’t deserve to get respect bc of how they behave. OF COURSE WE WOULD ACCEPT THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE ACCOMPLISHED MORE AND I WOULD LISTEN. BUT I WOULD NOT RESPECT IF THEY HAVE BAD BEHAVIOR. RESPECT IS ABOUT HOW YOU TREAT OTHERS, IT DOESN’T MATTER WEATHER THEY ACCOMPLISHED MORE OR NOT IF THEY TREAT OTHER POORLY.

    • “Elders” are disconnected from the world they live in. I bet I’ve been through more in my 23 years of age than many people have who reach 80. Age isn’t a good indicator of anything. We should respect everyone, we should pay attention to life and learn from everything and everyone. Age has no merits, no real value. Accomplishments do. But living miserably for 75 years isn’t an accomplishment. And just because you could lead me down the “right path” doesn’t mean it’s right for me. By all means listen to wisdom, but it doesn’t exclusively come from older people. The fact that this and so many old school, irrational thoughts are still followed blindly and not questioned is astounding. We should want the world to be a better place, and I can tell you that how the world has been run isn’t what we want for the future. People need to keep growing, that includes older people, the fact they think their opinion is worth more just shows that they stopped learning amd and growing so very long ago.

      • Listen to the bottom half. That’s the important part.

    • For those of you who disagree, I say to you this — when RESPECT is demanded, used as a means of absolute and unquestionable control to the detriment of a(n) individual(s), the public or society at large, it is absolutely dangerous and should not be tolerated. To claim any sort of supremacy over another person, and thereby demand respect, based on your AGE is absolutely absurd and runs contrary to contemporary and classic wisdom. That means that ultimately RESPECT IS EARNED, not GIVEN or INHERITED, as a merit of a man or woman’s works in their public and private lives. Beyond this, respect is contingent upon the continuation of many circumstances and the maintenance of a respectable personal character. Therefore, regardless of age, it is possible for you to lose standing and the respect that comes with it — it is not constant, it is not an entitlement and it is not dependent upon your age. To suggest that it is dependent on age, is both toxic and NAIVE and calls into question such an individual.

  5. I also have to disagree. There is nothing dangerous about showing respect and being kind. Also, life experience is not replaceable by what one may read on the Internet, which itself is a mixture of truth and personal thoughts, just as reliable as watching TV or reading the newspaper.

    • respect is about treating others, not about listening to their life experiences. No one is questioning that elders have more personal experiences and that you should listen to them. We would still listen to them. But if they are bad mouthing and stuff, then they would lose respect.

      Again, not about listening bc elders have more experiences. It’s about how they treat others. I had a grandma that had a lot of important stuff to say, but she was mean to others and was not kind, so she lost many people’s respect.

    • But some use it to there advantage. In my Experience My Mom does this whenever I disagree with her or my Grandma. They are like you should show respect but they don’t respect me and think they can Do any wrong and I just have to Respect them no matter what they do or say. That Is wrong. And Knowledge does not come from age when things are disproved or Never were right to begin with. Most Elders I know just go on what they Heard or Know from other people telling them how something is but mever actually showing proof. And most of the things Have been disproven through actually testing and Knowledge.

  6. This article is such a prime example of why young adults and children feel entitled and lack respect. Such a shame we are teaching our youth that it’s okay to disrespect “some” adults, as if they have the experience or knowlwdge to differentiate between one or the other. The result, children disrespecting adults as they deem necessary. It’s a joke.

    • You’d disrespect Hitler, even if he’s older, wouldn’t you? Nobody automatically deserves respect. It’s earned, and some people can’t even earn it. That’s their fault, and it’s not our job to shield their actions because they’re old.

    • What a great example to live by. Thank you, Anne, for expressing such a loving and compassionate view of the youth whom you are, by nature, compelled to so passionately and unconditionally love and protect. You’re claim to supremacy of anyone younger than you is hereby denied and your opinion is cast out into the same pit of misery and despair from which you so gracefully expressed it from. May you forever languish in the thought that I, personally, will never accept or respect you or your views as you inevitably succumb to your inevitable end, whenever and however that may come. May your soul never leave its rightful place here, on earth, the world that you shaped with such indispensable hatred and resentment for those who you so vehemently demanded respect from.

  7. We don’t feel entitled for respect, whoever told you that. And not respecting someone is different than disrespecting them. No one needs the “experience and knowledge to differentiate between one and another”. You can literally tell when someone is being mean and has a bad attitude, it’s pretty much an instinct. Kids are not stupid unless they are toddlers. We don’t just randomly disrespect people that we “deem unnecessary” because they are not letting them do what they want. Only idiotic spoiled kids do that. But small brain adults that live in the middle of nowhere and don’t know what being mean and being kind means will never understand.

    • This is because of your immature and disrespectful upbringing .i am sure you have seen people disrespecting your parents and elders that’s why you have no regard for them .life is a long journey and your just young.ehen you 50 I’m sure you will realise what disrespecting means when you get your pay back .respecting elders is what makes you down to earth or you are some stupid sh*t flying no where.

  8. Timothy was a young preacher who was told not to let anyone despise his youth (1 Timothy 4:12) He was told this by one of his elders, the apostle Paul. So here is one example of mutual respect. Timothy was to try to avoid being disrespected by the elders in his church. The fact he was a young minister may have caused some of the older folks to view him as just a young whipper-snapper, and tempted them to disregard his preaching.
    There are teachings that are correct, such as: honor your father and mother; however, common sense would dictate to us that if a child is being abused by a parent, the child needs to get out of that situation. Wives should respect their husbands, but that doesn’t mean they are to allow themselves to become a bunching bag.
    Point is, there are good and right principles that serve as the foundation in which to build on, but each circumstance has to be evaluated. We should all aspire to do good and respect one another. After all; the second greatest commandment is: love your neighbor as yourself.

  9. I wish the term were used correctly. Respect can be extended to anyone, whether their intentions are good or bad (just stay away from the bad). It’s conformance that needs to be questioned if the reasons are contrived and outdated.

    Respecting elders is ok.

    Conforming to elders because they are older without a reasonable explanation does not allow growth in a world that is ALWAYS changing.

    Tell me a definitive reason WHY rather than the fact that you have more wrinkles than me and I’ll listen. Respect my decision if it isn’t what you would do.

    To be heard, one must speak coherently. To be coherent, one must establish a basis for reasoning outside of their own interpretations to remove bias’.

  10. Ok so what if some of your elders have put you through hell and trauma, and constantly shit on you? Am I supposed to just naturally respect them at all times with a smile on my face like everything is fine? I get shamed for my attitude and aloofness but that’s only because I can’t tolerate stupidity and unfairness. I respect my elders, but maybe not so much the ones that bring out the bad in me. So I’m going to agree with this article at the moment.

  11. Honestly, yes, we should respect our elders, what I mean is we do not have to treat them like a dictator bit respect them, do not mistreat them. And elders also need to respect us, being older than someone else does not give you any right whatsoever to look down on them. So, we should respect our elders, and elders should also respect the young.

  12. I had elderly in-laws who abused me verbally, emotionally and financially, disrespected me on a regular basis and demanded that I risk my health and career to look after 1 of them. Needless to say I lost all respect I had for them and actually hated them. They were arrogant, rude, condescending and just plain mean. They interfered in and ruined our marriage, particularly mother-in-law. You can’t actually think that elders like this should be respected. Had they been my parents, they would have been disowned and cut off permanently.

    • This is an exception of course..people don’t expect you to respect relatives who act like this…these responses are a little off the mark..what most of us are referring to is elders who have earned and therefore deserve respect from young people.I have been talked in ways that shock me by younger relatives and it’s disheartening beyond belief to experience that…I couldn’t imagine speaking like that to my older aunts and uncles..grandparents..parents..it just wasn’t tolerated in earlier days.

  13. The person who wrote (badly) this article has to be the most jaded and unhappy person I’ve seen in a long time. What a horrible twisting of what “respect your elders” means! This is exactly the kind of junk narrative that makes our society as a whole much worse than it should be. Respecting your elders doesn’t mean unconditionally doing what they say. It’s about being respectful and learning how to respect people that have been through life, and been at life longer than yourself. Everyone has elders, and at an given age, you are an elder to someone as well. Being respectful shows good manners and positive attitude. It’s shows maturity and self respect. Not just respect for people that are older than you. Remember that your elders actually do understand what it is like to be your age (even if the circumstances may differ slightly). The really do understand what it is like to be your age. But, can you say the same thing about them? No! You have not lived as long, haven’t had the life experiences they have had and don’t really have a lot of the wisdom that comes with that life experience. Take time to sit down with your elders. Listen to their stories. Call them. Visit them. Visit a senior center and help them. You might just find out that there is more to your elders than you realized. You might even finally discover the many reasons why you should respect them, and be respectful towards them. Time goes by really quickly. In the blink of an eye, you will be the elders. You will want that respect too, and by then, you will deserve it as well.
    There is nothing worse than being older. You are ignored, seen as “not-relative”, pushed aside and forgotten, because you are not important anymore. It’s a terrible feeling for anyone to go through. It’s even worse as you know you are getting older, and your life may soon be over. Have compassion for the feelings of these elders. Compassion, Empathy, Love and Respect are the keys to a happy life…for everyone!

  14. I think that we do have to respect elders, however I believe some of their opinions doesn’t matter. Of course, when they shares their opinions, we’d listened to them and took it to consideration, but imo their “way” to solves problems doesn’t have to be applied in our generation. example: When there’s a changes in law, they disapprove because it’s different from what they usually have. Or when there’s a new futuristic features that helps people, they also disapprove saying that that’s “not normal” and that we have to keep the tradition. Or when youngsters met an unfortunate incidents, the elders stated that the incidents r our faults, or that they had it worse. like???? why don’t you just sit on your rocking chair and sip a tea? Your role to changes the world are over, it is now the youngsters role to keep adapting and making a more comfortable world to live in for our next generation. When we, younger people, are becoming old like you, we’d give the role to the next generation. So my point is, we do have to respect elder because they were the one who brought their future and our present, BUT, some of their opinions about OUR future, doesn’t matter.

  15. It wouldn’t hurt to have respect for all living beings. It would make for a nicer place to live for all of us.

    From Google Dictionary:
    2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.
    “young people’s lack of respect for their parents”
    Similar:
    due regard
    consideration
    thoughtfulness
    attentiveness
    politeness
    courtesy
    civility
    deference
    Opposite:
    disrespect

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