Respect Your Elders, You Young Whippersnappers!

Salutations, as the spider Charlotte said to the pig Wilbur. How is the general disinterested community today?

The reason why I’m updating is because of an unusual event that occurred a few days ago. No, not the floods, or even my eighteenth birthday – which I spent running around the entire length of the Singapore CBD. No, this is something that is so mind-blowing that it is even more contentious than the whole Team Edward vs. Team Jacob debate. The subject is the elderly.

You know, those shuffling, grumpy old people whose hair is slowly giving up the fight to stay on their heads. The bunch of wrinkly folk who either prefers to spend their time snoozing in a rocking chair or running after/over kids with their motorized death-traps of doom.

Or killing monsters with glowing staffs. That’s just another of their daily activities, after shuffleboard.

But to move on to a slightly less ludicrous stereotype, those who are 60 and over (including those who LOOK 60 and over) tend to populate any place you can see, and just like the different countries, them old folk have differing cultures. Since I have been blessed to live in both Australia and Singapore, I am qualified to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

The Australian old folk are nothing like those frail, dying old men you see on TV. In fact, they probably put that man in the hospital. Those guys keep fit and active through a healthy lifestyle of bowls, speed-walking, and chasing their daughter / granddaughter’s potential suitors away with a shotgun or a well-placed cauldron of hot oil. Heck, in Western countries, the grandparents may even be getting more suitors than their grandkids. In Singapore, it’s almost the opposite. With the lack of space to swing a cat, the pollution so thick that you could feel it, and the fact that most Singaporean older folk prefer to either stay in and watch Cantonese dramas or stay in and gamble, those people can spend ten years in a comfortable rocking chair being sustained on ancient Chinese kung fu serials alone.

Though to be frank, any diseases in your body would probably die when they see IP Man.

However, one thing is for certain: The older generation has lived longer than all of us hip Gen Y folk. They have centuries of combined wisdom between them on a range of subjects life, marriage, schooling, and gambling. At least, the last was more for the Asian community. The Australians probably teach their kids to hunt koalas or ride kangaroos or something. But altogether, most of us obey and honour our parents, whether it’s because of love and deep familial bonds, whether it’s because of a biblical imperative (Exodus 20:12, NIV), or whether it’s simply because they’re giving us our allowance. The question is, do we, as a younger generation, have to obey the orders given by strangers of the older generation?

Of course, for purposes of this discussion, I of course mean legitimate orders given by a member of the older generation (middle age and over) to one of the younger (say, 20 and younger) in the course of everyday life. This does not include illegal requests or orders, or even requests. If someone orders you to do something and you have to biological or emotional prerogative to do so, would you do it?

I, as a partially-Singapore education teenager, have been brought up in a culture that demands courteous respect to our elders (i.e. anyone older than us), because that is our tradition. Family is one of the most important things in Singapore, and tradition states that we must defer to all elders, even strangers. While that all seems sunny and green, it does have a dark side – though I have no time to go through that at the moment. If you would like to do some further reading, have a look at Neil Humphrey’s Notes from an Even Smaller Island.

But why wouldn’t you want to live in a system that respects your elders? You might ask, and I’m sure that many of my older relatives would in a furious tone of voice. In response, may I just tell you a story? Note that all this is true, and it really did happen to me.

I was riding on the bus a while ago in Singapore. As with most public transport anywhere in the world, it was quite full, but thankfully not packed like a can of sardines. Or like the morning trains I used to take to work, where it was so full that the doors would close less than two inches from my face in an Indiana Jones-esque fashion. But I digress. The Singapore buses were shaped in such a way that there were two doors and two distinct ‘parts’ to a bus. The back had the normal rows of seats filled with rubbish and sticky substances and a narrow aisle, while the front had seats facing sideways, and on the other side was a space for people to stand / a wheelchair / some young goats and a goatherd named Peter. If anyone gets the reference, I owe you a candy bar.

On that fateful day, I was standing in that space and attempting to simultaneously peer out of the window to observe Singaporeans in their natural habitat and keep away from direct sunlight lest I either burn, get skin cancer, or sparkle and be cursed to act in a sappy teenage vampire romance movie. On the seats facing sideways (and me), there was an elderly gentlemen in his, I would estimate, late 50s, and his wife sitting comfortably. Between us were about four very young school children, say about 9-11 years old, still in their school uniforms. They were all from the same school, and were situated around the front entrance and between me and the old folk, and then a gap between them and the steps to the back section.

Now that the Agatha Christie novel-style description (long and draggy) is over, here’s where things get interesting. All of a sudden, and breaking my thoughts on whether the first bulldog was actually a crossbred between a bull and a dog, the old man suddenly spoke up, snapping at one of the kids who was standing in the aisle.

“Hey, you! Boy! Which school are you from?!?!?”

The little boy, in confusion, did an  ‘Are you talking to me?’ gesture, before answering the man.

The man grunted in satisfaction, before continuing: “Don’t block the aisles! Don’t block the entrance! Go move to the back [of the bus]!!”

Now, it may seem like a normal request (the snappish way of speaking notwithstanding), save for two things:

  1. The man had no authority to tell them to move on. He was not a bus conductor or driver, nor their father / teacher / cruel overlord. He had nothing but the casual requests of a bystander or fellow passenger.
  2. Even if the man had had the authority, the bus was currently in motion and not stopped. If someone was being blocked by the kids, the order would be perfectly justifiable. Thing was, no one was moving around on the aisles, nor was anyone trying to enter. The man had no reason to order them to move.

However, the man either didn’t know / didn’t care about the two things. Despite the confused ‘WTH‘ expression on the little kid’s face, he repeated his demands. But he didn’t stop there. Oh no. Ordering a little kid around wasn’t enough.

The man glanced to the side and, observing more of the little tyke’s friends clustered near the entrance, decided that he could embarrass all of them at the same time. He turned back to the young schoolboy and said:

“Go. Go tell your friends to move away. Go!”

If I was the kid, I would have hit the old man, or treated him to my best death glare. Or, at the very least, said no. Credit to the little boy, though, he was nothing if obedient. Trading freedom of individual thoughts for the, albeit unwilling, deference to the old man, he trudged back up the bus to the front and tapped one of the kids on the shoulder.

“Hey,” the boy whispered to her. “We have to move. That man told us to.”

The girl gave him the same dumbfounded look that he showed earlier (maybe it’s catching), and with a look at the old man, told the boy, “You go move!”

Ah, childish insults. Or insults of a child. Potato, Po-tah-to.

In the end, the boy and girl did move to the back, the old man sunk back to his seat with an arrogant smirk, and my face now carried the dumbfounded look. Because, I truly was shocked.

Personally, I feel that the old man overstepped his boundaries. By snapping at the children, ordering them around when he had no authority to, or when he had no need to. He had no reason to make them do what he wanted. Either way, he should have asked them politely, and not barked orders like a drill sergeant. Kudos to the children for obeying and choosing not to make a scene. But in a system that promotes respect of elders, what the man did fell far short of the mark. This was not respect. This is an abuse of authority.

Thankfully, not everyone is like this. Here’s hoping that that old man, and everyone else who is like that, realises that respect is a privilege, not a right. Ironically, I learnt that one from my elders.

But perhaps you feel differently. If so, I would love to hear your thoughts upon the subject and the story – post a comment and tell me what you think!


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