Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Standing Up for Respect
I came to pick up my newspaper copies in the office. And while I was sitting in the waiting room, scanning the papers for my articles, a Caucasian man, maybe in his sixies, came out from the editorial offices and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Harry Stoll. And you are. . ?
“Hi, I’m Minotte,” I said, standing up.
“Oh, don’t stand up for me. You’re a lady!” Harry said, amused. He went on and told me stories about his Filipino-Chinese son-in-law, touching on his own European heritage. He shared with me with fond stories of his part Filipino grandson who is quite close to him.
I was awkward because I didn’t give my standing up to shake his hand any thought.
We met again at the car service shop. And when he approached me, I stood up again to say hello.
“You stand up because of my age, right?” Harry said, quite puzzled at how slow I am to unlearn my behavior.
So now I will examine my standing up to meet people and why they insist that I don't.
In the Philippines, where I come from, where families are extended, and where I grew up with my grandparents--we are taught to stand up to show respect--for elders, for superiors, for priests, or when you are in someone else's house. In the really olden days, we were taught to stand up for foreigners. Today, men still stand up for women but this is mostly superceded by the age of the man. If he is older, the younger woman may show respect by standing up to greet him. For parents and revered grandparents, it is customary for the (grand)children to take their hand to the forehead and receive a blessing from them. And no one ever talks back to older people, not even when they are wrong.
Here in America, where everyone is a "foreigner," where you can call your father/mother-in law by first names, where equality of opportunity is emphasized, man, woman, young, old, disabled, abled--everyone has the same chance and I guess, the same treatment. I mean, if the disabled woman beside you can take your job as manager, then you will assume that she has had the same educational and intellectual talents, so why give her your seat in the bus if she won't give her yours?
Also, here in this first-world, modern and equal country, everyone is on a first-name basis. I had to stop myself from calling my editor (and therefore my boss) Mr. Lemyre so many times as I couldn't bring myself to call him just Rick. But I had to, lest he think of me as trying to create a caste system in the office.
In Manila, everyone above 30 is called Ma'm/Sir at one point or another, be it at work or in fast-food joints as customers. Age supercedes even social class. It is common for wealthier people to call their elderly household staff/drivers as "Mang" or "Manang" (Mr. or Mrs.) something, versus just by their first names. Even older siblings are called "kuya" or "ate" and friends of your parents are called uncles and aunts.
My son's playmate, Jackie, calls me "Magu's mom" because he couldn't pronounce Mrs. Cuenca. When Magu also attended his classmate's birthday party at their place, his classmate's father told everyone to call him by his first name while he was handing out nametags. My poor son called him tito (uncle) so-and-so, out of habit. Later, he realized it was not the same as the Filipino custom of calling everyone uncle and auntie so-and-so even if they weren't relatives. I told him, he could call him Mr. Smith, if he is not comfortable calling him by his first name--which kind of connotes disrespect for our culture.
It may be an uphill battle, but I would like to try to keep this endearing custom alive in my children. I certainly will not accept their not standing up to greet us (their parents) with a kiss when we come in. I have taught them to do this when they were all little. I explain to them the reverence standing up and in calling the older people by Mr. so-and-so--that it is formal and respectful because age gives them a certain level that younger ones must acknowledge.
Shivers that my kids will grow up like many American teens here--as they zip by without acknowledging their parents, talking back at them, cursing infront of them, blaring loud music in their rooms or cars.
Believe it or not, "Just because I said so" still prevails for Filipino parents and their children. We use many old-fashioned parenting tactics and sometimes it is innate that we manipulate them into thinking that putting old parents into a nursing home is a sin because they have to take care of us when we get old. That is because we provide our young with love and support way after they are 18. And to instill discipline, we still spank them into place, and they cannot talk back to us, even if they know they can call 9-1-1.
This is our culture--pros and cons included. Although I will be careful about the manipulative part, I will retain the endearing part of respect and love of family and elders as my kids grow up here in America. My boys are taught to give up their seats in the BART to women and the elderly. Their tall and strong bodies are trained not to let me carry all the grocery packages. My daughters should dress appropriately at all times. They also cannot make a mess or be noisy or sit in the couch with legs wide open in other people's homes. And they certainly must stand up when the homeowner arrives.
And maybe the whole point is beyond culture. I don't want to unlearn respect and reverence for those that have come before me. Harry will tease me but I will continue to stand up when I see him. I don't want to unlearn propriety and I am not stiffened by it. I respect people not for politics, money or power. I show respect to people, not just the elderly, so that they may feel good about themselves--because they are the highest link in this chain we call life.
I guess that is what respect is--an offshoot of humility, kindness and compassion, a reverence for people and the awesome beauty of God's creations. If only we had endearing terms and customs for that, too.
And though everyone may be equal, everyone deserves a little respect--and standing up to show it can't hurt now, can it?