When I was a teenager, I wanted to enroll in a computer class and my father wouldn’t let me. Later I found out it was because the class had more boys than girls in it. He later told me if I wanted to enroll in a class, I should choose one that more girls wanted to participate in.
Growing up, and until I left the parental nest, I always did as I was told. I was what many people might call a good daughter, but it didn’t mean I agreed with the decisions that were made for me or that I wasn’t disappointed with the way things turned out.
I once asked my uncle for advice. I wanted to know how to pursue my dreams while remaining respectful to my father when our thoughts and opinions about everything were so different. His response shocked me.
“You politely agree to what he says, and then you do whatever you want.”
I realized then my uncle and I had different definitions for the word respect. Also, I felt he didn’t value honesty. Frankly, I was disappointed with him.
After that conversation with my uncle, I studied the definitions of some words, the adjective polite and the nouns respect and honesty. I found the word polite comes from Latin politus meaning “refined, elegant, accomplished,” literally “polished,” past participle of polire “to polish, to make smooth” (etymonline.com) Basically, anything that is polished loses some of its essence and its truth.
I also started to pay closer attention to how my friends and relatives interacted with their parents, especially when they disagreed on something. I had no siblings, so I didn’t know, and I was curious to see how others handled their disagreements.
I noticed some did what they were told, some fought to get their way, and some were sneaky like my uncle. Observing the different types of interactions made me carefully evaluate the true aspects of being polite and/or respectful in every case.
Those who wouldn’t take no for an answer and managed to get what they wanted were remarkable; I envied them. Their method, fighting for their right to do what they wanted to do and possibly reaching some kind of compromise, was, I believe, the most respectful of all, in that they were more or less polite in their interactions and showed a great deal of respect not only for their parents but also for themselves.
These people developed healthy social skills from an early age and learned how to negotiate and get what they want in life.
Those who obeyed, I understood; they were like me. It was disappointing how easily we gave up on our plans and dreams. I’m not sure what others’ reasons were, but mine was that my father had a temper and I didn’t want to anger him. Those of us who did as we were told were polite to our parents and made them feel respected but we didn’t respect ourselves enough to give our own wants and desires priority.
After all, didn’t we owe it to ourselves to appreciate and pursue happiness? Eventually, the respect I gave my father turned into resentment and my submission turned into regret.
I was disturbed by how many played their parents, smiling at them while having no intention whatsoever of honoring their word to them. They were polite, but it was all an act. What was even more disturbing was the number of parents falling for this act.
I always wondered… Did they not see what was happening? Did they not know their children were lying to their faces? Couldn’t they tell the difference between having respect and being polite? Were they satisfied with having polite dishonest people as children? I never really understood those parents.
Now, decades later, I’d still rather be honest than polite any day. I’d also rather have people honestly disagree with me than politely lie to my face. It’s good to be polite in general, but being polite and being respectful are two different things, and if I had to choose one, I would always choose respect.
If anyone doesn’t get the difference between polite and respectful, all they have to do is ask themself whether they would insult someone they respect and then search for #InsultSomeonePolitely.