A matter of respect

Theres always an argument when we compare culture of India with that of the West.

The general perception is “kids in India are taught to respect more than those in the West”. I dont agree; in fact have beliefs to the exact contrary. I believe Indians respect age while in the west, individuality is respected. Indian kids are taught to bow and touch the feet of elders. How many children actually know the reason behind that action? Very few (I didnt)! Still, kids grow up touching elders feet and then they pass on the tradition to their kids, minus the reasoning*. Dont get me wrong here – I dont have anything against age-old customs and am sure there would be valid reason behind the action. What Im against though is respect with too many “where” clauses.

Lets take some examples:
In India, if you meet an elder (outside of the workplace) whos not related to you, you would probably address them as Uncle/Aunty. In the west, you would address them by their first name. By placing elders on a pedestal, we cage them in our expectations. Elders in India are expected to conform to a typical image set by the society. We start setting standards for what an elder should or shouldnt do. In the west, everyones privacy is respected and what they do in their life is no-ones business but theirs.
An example: A person in their fifties remarrying in India would raise quite a few brows in India, whereas in the west, no-one interferes.

Indian society tends to set the norm for “when” people should do “what”. Out here, if youre 30 and still single, your relatives would be very worried and would express their concern at every possible opportunity they get. If you married for a few years without kids, people would be curious about “whats going on”. And you get asked over and over again till you come up with something that satisfies their expectations … for the time being that is.

I once attended a session on cross-cultural sensitivity and was delighted to know that in America, its considered rude to ask someone whether theyre married. Wow, I wanna go to the US of A!

We tend to judge people by their profession and tend to look up to people or look down upon them based on what they do. So, a driver, a steward, a cleaner would be treated like an untouchable, someone inferior whereas an executive as an equal or superior. In the west, people arent judged by what they do, no work is considered low. Its nice to see people interact freely with people they meet in their daily lives with no hang-ups about what they do. People are not afraid to take a break from work or to try a different profession after a few years.

In the west, basic courtesy is shown to even people you dont know. People wait for pedestrians to cross streets, people give way to others in lifts, corridors, even on busy roads. If someone snicked against your arm by mistake, most people would be courteous and apologize.

People are disciplined and respect queues, rules, protocol. Often, youre delighted when strangers smile and say Hi as they walk by. In India, there is major havoc on this front too. Rules are broken without much thought, we jump queues, push our way through anything and everything: buses, lifts, roads, malls, restaurants. Look around consciously and you will see even the so-called-“educated””creme of the society” honking on roads, driving on high-beam, parking in reserved slots, grabbing seats for the handicapped in buses and trains.

Lives are lived selfishly, oblivious to the existence of other people around. We feel pride in saying we are religious but if you go to any popular temple, youll see people pushing other people aside to pay their respects to The Almighty, to reach Him, to touch Him. What about the divinity that lives in each one of us: in you, in me and in the person you pushed aside to speed up your “darshan”?

Then, thinking of all this, arent people in the West more respectful than we are?
Is touching elders feet any good if we dont have an iota of respect for people we work with, live with, travel with? Arent we in shackles of other peoples expectations? Is respect for an elder any good if we cage them with our expectations and refuse to treat them as individuals?

I guess each one has to figure that out on their own!

* http://www.swaminarayan.org/faq/charansparsh.htm