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Respect not Obedience
03 Oct 2016 | Dipankar Gupta
Human beings are unique creatures. It is only among them that age confers dignity. For all others species, age is socially crippling and personally humiliating. That strapping buck by the bush is waiting to run you to the ground.

In the past, our dignity came with control over property and that included not just the family jewels but the kitchen silver too. This encouraged a survival strategy whose first lesson was obedience and, if truth be told, the last, as well. This is why young kids, wary of being shut out, always lined up behind their dad, the old man.

That was then, way back when, well before we became modern. The deference and awe that age inspired in the past are almost as lively as stone edicts are today. Like everything else, in the modern world, relationships have to be made. Respect today is no longer a hand-me-down; an inheritance you could calmly predict.

The parent, like a soldier, must earn those stripes or else get sidelined like a gutless general. The funny thing about respect is that it begins with yourself. Modern people, who have wised up to this, start planning their lives from the start so that they retain their respect till the end. Blind obedience has left the building, nor are any sequels being planned.

Modern jurisprudence has taken a lot from Roman law, but not all. In ancient times, the man of the house had final authority over his children and wife; it was like a fact of nature- something like gravity. In fact, modern law came into it’s own only after it mugged Roman law in broad daylight and took this “obedience” clause out of its grip.

Like it or not, for respect to even enter the frame today, dependency and its soul mate, pity, must exit. People only respect those with whom they might feasibly trade positions without a schism in their soul. To be with whiny geriatrics requires steely resolve which is why their children suddenly get calls from office and push back their visits. When it is pity and a reluctant sense of duty that bring the old and the young together, exit lines, not happy chatter, dominate family conversations.

On the other hand, those parents who have kept their self-respect intact hardly have time to brood. Their kids and grandkids keep trooping in and out of their homes. As their children are not exhausted by the constant grind of reverse parenting, they are happier to take care of you when you really need it one day. But for now, you often wish they’d go home and let you watch that old black and white flick.

Respect is truly infectious when you give it to yourself. Notice how those around you catch the bug and actually enjoy it. Notice also the warmth and the afterglow of the new family huddle.

About Dipankar Gupta
Dipankar Gupta (born 11 October 1949) is an Indian sociologist and public intellectual. He is currently Distinguished Professor at Shiv Nadar University and director, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory. He was formerly Professor in the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His current research interests include rural-urban transformation, labour laws in the informal sector, modernity, ethnicity, caste and stratification. He is a regular columnist with The Times of India, The Hindu and occasionally in The Indian Express and Anandbazar Patrika in Bengali. He serves on the board of institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) and Max India.
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