Before I begin my thoughts, I want to be sure that I address that this post is in no way, shape, or form directed at anyone that I know personally or that I am close to. This post is purely based on my own observations of people while working in the food service industry, random observations of people in public places, observations of the human existence, and observations as an educator.
Let me start off by saying that growing up, my parents instilled one thing in my brothers and I from the moment we could talk: treat everyone with respect. They told us to always respect our elders whether they were teachers, bosses, our friends’ parents, etc. because they are authority figures, and whether or not you agree with their opinions/rules, they are your superior and you always respect your superiors. Basically, they expected us to live by the Golden Rule, which is to treat everyone the way that we would like to be treated, and I have always lived my life that way. Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I never would have dreamed of talking back to or disputing a teacher (even if I disagreed with how they chose to run things), being rude to a waiter/waitress/retail worker, or treating any person, for that matter, with any level of disrespect or rudeness. I was taught that every person on this earth is fighting some kind of battle in his or her life, and therefore kindness and respect should be given to him or her until I am given a reason not to give it.
It appalls me how many times I have seen people (a lot of the time, adults) berate and publicly embarrass waiters/waitresses and retail workers for something that is beyond their control or not their decision. How many times the kitchen has unfortunately run out of something, and therefore it is somehow the waiter/waitress’ fault, and the customer feels the need to publicly humiliate him or her as a result. How many times a clothing store clerk has politely, yet visibly regrettably turned down a coupon that has expired, and the customer feels the need to scream at this worker and degrade him or her when it was not this worker’s decision to no longer accept the coupon, and it was in fact the company’s policy. I recently read an article discussing how the phrase, “The customer is always right,” is an absolute load of bull, and after witnessing the many situations that I have, both as an observer and as a worker in the food service industry, I have to agree wholeheartedly.
I’ve also read many articles that point to this generation of mine as being the most accepting of others and largest advocates of equality and mutual kindness, yet I see so many kids and teenagers coming up behind us exhibiting this same level of entitlement and disrespect that I’ve seen many an adult display in multiple different avenues. So, that begs the question: Where is the disconnect? Where did this level of entitlement come from and why does it appear to be getting worse instead of better when this generation is supposed to exhibiting the opposite?
Here is where my unpopular opinion begins, and I want to tell a short story to preface it. One day, I was having a discussion during passing period with a small group of my freshmen students about the topic of respect, which my students know is the most important thing to me. I asked them, “When you meet someone new, do you expect him or her to treat you with respect and kindness even if he or she doesn’t know you?” They all answered with a unanimous, “Yes, Miss!” Then I asked, “So when you meet someone new, do you respect them right away and treat them with kindness even though you don’t know them?” And their answer shocked me. They said, “No way, they have to earn my respect.” I looked at them all, puzzled, and asked, “Do you realize how little sense that makes, and how hypocritical it is? It is completely backwards.” They laughed it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but therein lies the problem: people fail to see that it is a big deal to live in such blatant hypocrisy.
Why is it that humans have all of a sudden become so entitled to receive respect, but then do not feel as though they should have to give it? People have become so content with disrespecting, berating, and stepping on others to get what they want, but God forbid if someone does it to them. We sit here and wonder why people are so unkind to one another when I think it is partly our current mindset as a society that is fostering it.
In this generation, we have been exposed to so many Oprah-esque speeches, videos, and rants about getting what you want and doing what you want; how we “deserve” to get what we want, because apparently, just being alive entitles you to get anything your heart desires. But what I feel is implied in those, “You do you,” types of speeches is the suggestion that because you “deserve” to get what you want, how you treat other people in the process of attaining it is allowed to fall to the wayside. And yet, we expect to receive respect and kindness from anyone we come into contact with in that process. Why is it all of a sudden accepted in our society to treat other people like garbage to get what you want, but when the shoe is on the other foot, those same people raise hell about it?
I’m sorry, but there is only one thing I will accept that humans “deserve” to have, that they are born inherently deserving of, and that is an education. Everything else you think you “deserve” should be dependent on how you have chosen to treat others, whether stranger or friend, because to me that speaks hugely to your character. If you’re a shit person? No, I don’t think you “deserve” to become the CEO of your company, or to have your meal comped because the wrong topping was put on your pizza. Did you just verbally abuse a cashier in a public place for making a small mistake or for something that they cannot control? No, you should not get your money back. You should get a swift kick in the ass that boots you right out of the establishment’s door, because when people with that sense of entitlement get exactly what they want, it only fuels their idea that behaving that way is acceptable, and that it is more than okay to do it again because they have been shown that it will get them what they want.
As an educator, I’ve read many a horror story online about students who bring fiery wrath down upon a teacher when they earn an F on a test, and instead of being backed by administration, that teacher is faulted by admin, the student, and the parents, rather than the student who obviously failed to prepare for the test. I’m sorry, but when did parents suddenly begin to think that a student failing a test or a class is the teacher’s fault?
This comic is THE perfect example of what I’m talking about. The difference between the looks on the student’s face says it all. Somehow in the years that have passed, it has become okay to challenge and disrespect the ones we are supposed to respect, even when the fault is our own, and the repeated acceptance of the behavior has only built up this level of entitlement that our society has come to foster.
I get it; generations change, expectations change, and society changes. But of all of the things for us, as humans, to begin to throw away, why did basic human understanding and empathy have to be what’s deteriorating? In its attempt to empower people, I think our society and culture has instead accidentally impressed and ingrained this air of entitlement into our young people, and for that reason, I worry about how the younger generations will move forward. Will they move as one to unite us, or will they move with an “every man for himself” mindset where all they do is step on each other to get what they believe they “deserve,” no matter the kind of person he or she has been, and be stuck in an endless cycle of anger at those who disrespect them but then go and do it to others?
I write this post because what I have seen has made me so incredibly sad, not just for the people who I have witnessed as the receivers of this rudeness and humiliation, but for us as the human race. I wish for nothing more than for people to step off of the pedestal that they have put themselves on and that society has built for them, and regain their humility, humbleness, and sense of unity with other people. We’re all on this planet for such a short time, so why waste it treading violently on the backs of others for our own benefit? Be kind. Be understanding. Be respectful, even if you don’t agree. I think you will find that this earth is far more pleasant to live on when this nonsense isn’t present.