Danger Field

“I don’t get no respect!”

Rodney Dangerfield


He was a little guy, munching on the taco lunch that his mother had brought into my office for him, his younger sister and herself. I was a little miffed, I won’t lie, that the family knew they had an appointment with me right after lunch, but they decided to make the appointment itself lunch. I tried to concentrate on my interview questions and assessment, shredded lettuce and ground beef flying onto the floor as I did so. I could overlook the need to vacuum my office after the visit.

What I could not overlook, at least not easily, was the outright, in-my-face, vitriolic and vocal disrespect that was shown to me by my pint-sized patient. After trying to engage him for several minutes, only to have the conversation default to mother, who was trying her best to ignore his outrageous behavior, I got this answer from him as I tried to ask one more softball question.

What I need from you right now is for you to stop talking!”

Really? That’s what I get from a latency age patient after being in the profession for thirty years? Really?

It struck me as I thought about this scenario later in the day and for several days after this that we are, as a culture, rapidly losing any sense of what appropriate displays of respect are. It happens in my office. It happens when I am seeing folks in emergency rooms around the state. It happens in homes across the country, as children disrespect their parents. It happens in schools, as kids think that bringing weapons to school in outright defiance of rules or talking back to teachers and principals is acceptable behavior.

It happens when citizens do not respect police officers or EMS workers. It happens to the office of the President of the United States. Now, I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that I should respect the office of the Presidency no matter who held it, for he could be removed for wrong doing or could be voted out after his term if he had not done a good job, but the office would remain. Nowadays, it appears that we have lost our way and no longer prescribe to this idea either.

What has happened? What is happening?

Why do we no longer respect ourselves, our institutions such as schools, churches, marriage, and others? 

It seems to me that several things are adrift here, with mooring lines long since cut and nothing to hold us safely in the harbor. 

Respect is not being modeled in the home. 

Respect is not being taught in the schools.

Respect is not being demanded as a prerequisite to moving forward in life.

Respect is not being earned, whether at the local level or at the highest levels of government and industry. 

I would challenge each of us to think hard about this.

How do we get back to teaching respect from the very beginning in the home, then have this lesson continued in the schools, and then modeled further in the workplace and beyond?

A single session when a troubled child is scattering lettuce on my floor and telling me to shut up is one thing. Training kicks in to deal with these minor frustrations. 

Losing respect for each other, our government, our religious institutions, our governing documents, our social norms, and our mutually accepted ways of moving together through society is much more serious, and may have far reaching effects if we don’t act now to turn things around.

As always, I welcome your comments.



17 thoughts on “Danger Field

  1. Personally, I believe people in general do not have respect for themselves, so how can they teach their children a quality they know nothing about. Just like honesty, integrity, honor, courage. The number of people who have these qualities to pass on to younger generations are dwindling.


  2. Yeah, I know. But a latency aged kid is still a kid. They don’t appreciate 30+ years of experience because he/she is a latency aged kid. They don’t get it. But we can set ourselves aside. It’s really really hard. It’s not fair. But we can do it.


  3. Greg,

    Could NOT have said this any better, clearer or more direct. You hammered that nail directly on its head! Disrespect is a cultural epidemic that continues to spread like wild fire. It’s a social sickness which began at the very basic level…the family unit. In order for us to see a return of respect in our culture, it must first return to that basic level…the family unit. Parents must be parents & stop deferring their responsibilities onto heir children. We never saw this behavior when we were kids. Lord, if we talked to our dads the way kids do today… well, let’s just say we would not have repeated the offense!

    Good post. As always. Nice to see you finally got a minute to write;)



  4. Dr. Greg, as I’ve said before I’ve been a substitute and a regular high school math teacher. I’m also the grandma that spanked my grandson in front of the New Mexico State Police. It was and is against the law to spank a child. Usually, new students asked for my complete name, they thought that would start a fight and nothing would be accomplished. They next thing they asked me was: How much would I pay them to be good? I told them that they should pay me. Then I started teaching and they learned. In the teachers’ lounge and in conversations, many teachers wondered if they should pay the students more. These teachers don’t have self-respect, so they can’t teach respect.

    Bush’s stupid-No child left behind- some jerks came out from DC, Dept of Ed. They’d look through the door’s glass pane, and watch my class go to the board and work, which every expert will tell you won’t work, as it will ruin their confidence. Anyway, I had several feds meet with me, and asked me how much I was paying my students. At seminars, they said when a student did well to reward them with candy. At my school, the teachers had the image of a 300 lb gang banger being insulted, because of being treated like a child. When the teachers protested that we have a diabetes epidemic here and candy isn’t suitable, they ignored it, and belittled us. Many principals will do anything to cover their rears. There are many good teachers, but they get beat down by the system. Teachers aren’t taught math, history, they take garbage called learning how to teach history.

    How can a person that never learned to be personally responsible, teach responsibility? I mostly appealed to being a real man with honor. I appealed to the girls to be women of respect. It wouldn’t have worked, if I hadn’t respected myself. I certainly didn’t have the magic bullet-Oh, I taught until a few years ago.

    I like to take classes at the university. I find so many of the young people to have good hearts, and are developing common sense. I’m from the generation that took a bottle of vodka and played Russian roulette, drag raced on the streets, and played chicken-seeing which vehicle would turn away first. We were sort of bummed out by the Korean War. Just as the WW II vets-children of the Great Depression- made a strong and stable America-my generation fought against DDT, environmental poisoning, integration, civil rights.

    Remember that we had past Presidents that weren’t respected very well. Andrew Jackson had horrible things said about him, as he had a pack of hounds in the White House, he and his cabinet spit on the floor, instead of using spittoons. They didn’t like LBJ’s pack of beagles either. It was suspected that Jackson had a still in the White House. Obviously a good part of Americans didn’t like Lincoln or his policies-his generals threatened to walk off at one time, and he almost lost the election to Gen. McClellan – the McClellan that invented the cavalry saddle to help the horses. US Grant was called a cuss word drunk-He had stomach cancer, and alcohol was about the only thing that killed the pain.

    Your training will kick in,and it already has, you’ve made an assessment of what’s wrong on many levels.


  5. Greg..I agree. It seems that when I was a child, an adolescent, and a young adult we were taught to respect your elders, your teachers, police, Dr.’s, RN’s, anyone who was in authority. We would never consider making a scene in public or private. I think a big part of it was we were taught to respect ourselves and in doing so we respected others. What is so sad is many shield themselves in social media and are misguided to having a false sense of bravado in typing an opinion versus a conversation. It is my opinion that frustrations and other issues in their “world” are spilling over to their disrespect of complete strangers. Just not sure when children were taught the world revolves around them. Kindness and respect of others got lost in translation and coping skills became nonexistent. Thanks


  6. When I was young and did something disrespectful, whether on purpose or not, my grandmother would reprimand me by saying, “You are better than that.” She didn’t tell me I *knew* better, but that I *am* better. It was criticism, but it felt more like she was inviting me to abide by my standards. Our 24 hour news cycle, TV always on, gadgets in hand culture robs us of the time to consider actions and consequences unless we are disciplined enough. I agree with you that many of us aren’t.


  7. Amen Brother! I think somehow our concept of freedom and liberality have morphed into something perverted, and that thing is the self loathing and disrespect of which you speak. People have become islands, hell many don’t even talk to each other anymore, they tap keys on a little box while driving down the road, but I digress. Isolated, overindulged, politically correct and a royal pain in the ass! Sorry, but I don’t see it getting any better soon. Depressing thought, no?


  8. It’s hard to argue with any of this, Doc, but I have to say what’s on my mind. Could you be extra sensitive to this sort of thing because of your new position? On the other hand, the kid needed a kick in the shin.


  9. As a kid I gave my pdocs a lot of scathing looks. I was actually really, really phobic (still kinda am) of pdocs. I have no clue how prevalent that is, but I get phobic in the way that some people are freaked out by the dentist. I was that freaked out and angry about the situation. I probably would have handled oral surgery better. It didn’t help that my father would go in there and tell lie after lie about me. And they tended believe everything he said cuz I was so freaked out and pissed off. And that would just piss me off even more.

    Next time you have an angry kid, look at the parent and see if the kid is reacting to anything the parent has said. Or even try to figure out if the parent did anything to provoke the kid. I remember when I was 11 I was very pissed off with a pdoc. I accused him of threatening to force medication on me if I refused and that a nurse would inject it into me. He said, “Don’t put words in my mouth!” I said my Dad told me that, and my Dad admitted it was true. The doctor looked at him like he was a total freak.

    My Dad got a lot smarter after that. He got better at knowing when not to admit to things and how to manipulate the docs. Some of them eventually caught on to him. I read the medical record from one. He called my Dad controlling and manipulative.


  10. Elizabeth,

    Exactly, and that’s why I said that the training must kick in at that point, because the human nature that drives the knee-jerk response is not to be trusted in the middle of that kind of session!



  11. Maria,

    I have to agree. I know my dad did not stand for much, and he was very clear about what he expected. The consequences of not doing what my parents wished were also pretty clear throughout my childhood as I remember.



  12. Rob,

    Yes, and yes!

    As I said, that’s where I have to get outside of myself, my own pride, my position, all of that, and do what I was trained to do-evaluate and treat this child with the care, compassion, consideration and respect that he deserves.



  13. I think for most people, they respond to the human nature and the knee jerk response. I imagine that you are the utmost of a professional when you are faced with this situation. Dr. Smith, you are awesome, there is no doubt of that. My concern is that our minds already go THERE immediately already and then they just STAY there. What do we do to get people thinking about problem solving rather than just clucking their tongues and wagging their fingers? And what can we do as professionals rather than just being professional and holding our tongues? I deal with a good number of kids like the taco holder and there is a path that needs to take us past the disrespect. I am happy to discuss at greater length. Honestly I get frustrated with the “kids just need to be more respectful argument” because again, with most people it doesn’t get any forward momentum.


  14. Doc, I’m on shaky ground here, but I have some additional suggestions. Can you wear a gorilla suit to the next session, and insist they bring you tacos, too? Reading between the lines a bit, it seems the whole family may be a problem (though the kid has become the focus), that they’ve been ordered to treatment by school or court, and that they’ve likely been through this before, perhaps many times. To borrow a football coach’s jargon, you may have to “take the other team out of their game plan” to make any progress. Would a gorilla suit do it? Seriously.


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