It takes a bit to stop me in my tracks.

“Excuse me Sir, can I tell you something?” I heard from this 7 year-old kid we had just seen in the Emergency Room. “Thanks for sitting and talking with me when the Doctor put my stitches in.  I was kinda scared.”

I tilted my head, my forehead scrunched and my cynicism melted, just a little. I wondered who had left all the onions out on the counter.

I find it sad that manners and respect are so rare these days that they stand out and deserve recognition.

No, I’m not originally from San Antonio, Texas.  30-something years and about 2,000 miles ago, well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in Rhode Island.  I was taught, with NO uncertainty, that “please and thank you” and “yes Sir/Ma’am” was expected. My friends were no different and, if you thought you could sass because your parents weren’t around, your friends’ parents were perfectly fine calling you out.

“Yes Sir, point taken.”

We learned by example that, as a boy, doors would be held open for ladies.  When we were old enough to date, you pulled out the chair for her at dinner and when she left the table to go to the bathroom, you stood.

You wanted cash for the movies or to do something?  You worked.

Work sucked.

In San Antonio right now, minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  At the fried chicken place around the corner from my house, they’re starting cashiers at $10.00 an hour.

In 1983/84, for $3.35 an hour I bused tables, washed dishes and stripped floors at a small restaurant in town. As a trade-off though, I learned to cook and my boss then turned out to be my closest friend to this day.  Alright, there were steaks involved while we waited for that floor to dry.  It was cooking practice!!

When I got out of high school, was money tight?  I never ate Ramen Noodles but Chef Boyardee ravioli was such a regular staple that I still can’t open a can.  I’m sure that Jack still eats his Fruity Pebbles though.

I realize I generalize here but I find it hard to accept the overall unassertiveness, feelings of entitlement, and lack of appreciation I witness almost every day.  Assuming, for whatever reason it seems, that things should just be given to them.  Unfortunately, just like manners, these habits and feelings (insert Race, Religion, Politics or Gender here) are “learned by example”.

I’m not speaking out of turn here when I say all this does affect me personally.  I’ve tried understanding and seeing things through different ‘eyes’.  I’ve gotten frustrated and angry and stood up.  I’m tired of hearing “we’re just different”, “you didn’t grow up where I did”, or “you wouldn’t understand”.  I’m also frustrated by the indifference, thinking these things will just work themselves out.

Perhaps I’m wrong; I’d be okay with that, but I think not.

I shake my head, and drop my hands, and I know that my attitude/feeling now has to be just simple respect. Though I still don’t believe simple ‘manners’ should be different based on geography or politics.

I don’t have to understand.  I don’t have to agree with what’s being said.  I don’t have to agree with your choices.  I just have to; I think, take a slow, deep, quiet breath and simply respect you for what you choose works for you.  Somewhere along the way , trying to find my own center.

By the way, when that young man left our ER that night–he shook my hand!

Who does that anymore?

–Doug Clark