Taking the Time to Teach Kids about the Value of Respect

Article excerpt

LONG ago in my school days, I overheard a teenage girl standing up to her peer group - something never easy to do. She was refusing to go out with her friends. On such occasions, this group often mocked and ridiculed alcoholics on the street. She did not want to be a part of that or even be present while it was going on. She noted simply, "I don't think it's good for them."

This incident emphasized in my young mind the importance of respect - respect for others as well as respect for values, standards, and ideals. The scornful reaction of her friends made me realize that those who show respect must often face disrespect - that respect was becoming unfashionable, while rudeness and callousness were actually admired.

Perhaps this is why, years later, I was impressed by a letter written to a local newspaper columnist by Virginia Evans, an African-American mother who enrolled in college after her children were grown.

Ms. Evans suggested that one reason for the growth in youthful destructiveness - from vandalism to teenage killings - was the failure of young people to learn respect for others. She suggested that civic leaders designate one week each year as "Respect Week," a time when adults could talk to teens about the value of respect.

On reading this, I realized something else: that many of the injustices in the world that shocked me most were caused by disrespect - disrespect for people and their rights because of their race, religion, or income, or simply because they were average citizens without power or "clout."

I saw that many of the young people Evans was writing about were disrespectful to others because they were seeking respect from their own peer group. Was it possible to persuade them to give others the respect they so desperately wanted for themselves? I decided to use my influence as a journalist to make Evans's idea a reality.

A committee was formed with civic organizations and businesspeople. The Greater Detroit chapter of what was then the National Conference of Christians and Jews used its influence to get the governor of Michigan and the mayor of Detroit to designate the entire month of October as "Respect Month. …