Respectful or disrespectful? Smart or foolish?

One afternoon, I was with a customer in his office, when he received a call on his mobile from somebody whom he addressed as Chachaji (Uncle). My customer immediately stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking, shouted for the peon, switched off the air conditioner, opened the windows, put on the fan, asked the peon to take the ashtray away and spray room freshener, and ran to the washroom while the peon did as instructed. A few minutes later, the peon put off the fan, closed the windows, and switched on the air conditioner. By then, my customer had returned from the washroom after having washed his face and gargled with mouthwash. The smoke and smell of tobacco had almost totally vanished! It was an efficient military operation!

A minute later, an elderly gentleman entered the room. My customer stood up and, saying, “Namaste, Chachaji!” touched his feet, and introduced me to his uncle. Chachaji was collecting funds for the construction of a new wing in the school run by the Trust of which he was Secretary. My customer dutifully handed over his cheque and touched Chachaji’s feet again. His work done, Chachaji left.

“Thank God!” my customer exclaimed as he sat down in his chair. “I have a lot of respect for Chachaji. To me, he is like God! He considers smoking a sin. If he had seen me smoking, he would have been terribly upset,” my 40 years old customer said.

I knew this customer quite well, so I responded, “If you really respect your uncle so much, and if he considers smoking a sin, you should stop smoking.”

“Boss, I’m under too much stress. Right now, I can’t even think of giving up smoking!” he declared.

“I think that, by continuing to smoke and concealing from your uncle the fact that you smoke, you are not respecting your uncle. On the contrary, this is utter disrespect,” I replied.

My customer is not an exception. He is the rule. Many men smoke, drink, etc. without the knowledge of their families. I know of some men, paragons of virtue at home, who ‘freak out’ on alcohol and tobacco when they go out of town, only to become ‘goody-goody boys’ when they return home!

I also know of women from conservative families leaving home dressed in traditional clothes, ostensibly to attend a ‘ladies get-together’ (or a ‘family get-together’ if they’re accompanied by their husbands), but actually headed for a discotheque. Under the traditional clothes are worn ‘daring’, ‘modern’ outfits. The traditional clothes are shed before they reach their destination. After enjoying themselves at the discotheque, they again don the traditional clothes before reaching home!

If a person believes that there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with whatever he/she is doing, why can’t that person do it openly? (While I’ve confined my comments to smoking, drinking and dressing, this applies to many other matters. Please read this Firstpost report about an engineer committing suicide because his wife posted photographs of their ‘secret’ wedding on Facebook.) If he/she faces disapproval from his/her elders, he/she should discuss the matter with the elders and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion. If he/she feels very strongly about the matter and if the elders are just not willing to accept his/her opinion, then he/she should do whatever he/she thinks is right and be prepared to face the consequences. Doing anything on the sly is not the solution.

At the same time, elders should understand that they cannot expect their children and children-in-law to stick to the same lifestyle as theirs. Change is inevitable.

Most importantly, youngsters must resolve that, when they become elders, they will not forget that they were once youngsters themselves

What do you think?

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17 thoughts on “Respectful or disrespectful? Smart or foolish?

  1. I think sometimes our elders put so many unnecessary restrictions on us that we youngsters find it stifling but we don’t have the guts to openly challenge their decisions and then see them hurt hence the deception. If they don’t know about it they won’t get hurt. Of course smoking is not good for health, and so the uncle considered it sin. Had he patiently explained this to his nephew that smoking will add on to his stress I am sure he would quit immediately or will at least try to.

    • Swati, what you think are ‘unnecessary restrictions’ on you today were probably ‘necessary restrictions’ on your parents when they were your age, considering the circumstances at that time. ‘Necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ are not always absolute. Times change. People must also change whenever necessary.
      To give an example, about 30 years back, mobile phones were unheard of. Landlines were a luxury that only privileged families enjoyed. Phone booths and STD PCOs were seen all over the place. Today, almost every person in India has a mobile phone today. Landlines are hardly used. Phone booths and STD PCOs are hardly ever seen.
      Similar changes have taken place in lifestyle, values, etc..
      We must try to have more genuine openness in relationships, especially between parents and children. Today’s youngsters must resolve that, when they become elders, they will not place unnecessary restrictions on their children, but will be more understanding parents.

      • I’ll put it slightly differently. Things become complicated because there’s very little genuine mutual respect. Elders start by using words like shameless, irresponsible, etc.. The youngsters respond by using words like old-fashioned, ignorant, etc.. Both sides get on the defensive and refuse to budge from their respective positions.

  2. I would often find my students putting the cigarette they were smoking behind their back – and would teasingly make a reference to their ‘deep breathing exercises’. I thought if they were smoking – it’s their choice – and I for one, was not going to feel any less respected if they smoked in front of me. We’re too much about form and less about real respect as a nation!

  3. I don’t see anything wrong in what these people do. Just because you dislike what I am doing and I disagree with you, there is no reason for me to flaunt it in your face. To each his own. And to these people their own too! 🙂

    • Certainly, Sukrit. To each his/her own.
      There are people who do not hide from their elders the fact that they smoke/drink, but they do not smoke/drink in the presence of the elders. That’s OK.
      Doing something and taking great pains to ensure that one’s elders don’t know about it: that’s something else.

  4. True what you said, Pro. On the sly is gross.
    Y’know, in our family which we like to think is rather orthodox, we had two factions. My Uncas I grew up with were cool and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, wear whatever I wanted, but not to it sneakily. The other faction, my aunts’ families didn’t approve of modern clothes etc.. So whenever we visited them, I dressed conservatively. Back at home, I did not dress conservatively. Now, this was not hypocritical as some might think. I respected my aunts’ families’ feelings and dressed and behaved how they expected. They love me, because they appreciated how I cared about what they thought. They were fine with how I was back at home.

    Now, I have a niece who did what you mentioned – wearing traditional clothes over “daring” clothes and going out to paarday when her Dad was out of town. I’ve gone hoarse pointing out what she did was cheating herself. Ah, now she’s married with two, maybe three kids and probably continues to fool herself.

    😀 I know people who stand up and talk when their bosses call.

    It is the way the world swings. It is because some people find it tough to be honest with their own selves.

    • Vidya, dressing differently at different places is OK. One dresses differently for the park or beach and for a religious place or a formal function.

      Early in my career, I had a HR Manager who would stand up if anybody mentioned the CMD’s name! No kidding. Every guy who heard this for the first time would try it immediately. The exercise probably did wonders for the HR Manager’s health! 🙂

      Not some, many people are more bothered about what others think of them than about what they think of themselves! 😦

  5. I dont think any rules and regulations, traditions and beliefs affect people as they used to. What is important is the kind of example are we setting. Is it ok if our kids did the same things to us?
    Even using cellphones while in a class or a speech or a presentation or a meeting I think is disrespectful.
    When I was teaching I prohibited my students from using cellphones in class. One day..one of my students came up to me and said that she was being called by the HOD. I asked her how she knew and she said that she recieved a text message from her. I did let her go but asked her to inform the HOD that from now on if she needs someone excused from the class she can send someone directly and ask my permission. That is what we used to do. And that the next time anyone gets such a message, one, they will be reprimanded for reading it in my class and , two,will not be allowed to leave. Even in such a simple matter…what kind of an example are we setting? Would the HOD have allowed a student to do the same in her classroom? I did have a talk with her directly and informed her of the same. To accept a certain behaviour is to justify its correctness…is it not?

  6. I personally have never felt the need to hide something that I did or plan to do from my elders or my wife unless I was actually planning a surprise for them.

    I have to agree with Corinne’s comment about respect being only for the form in India more than anything else.

    Lovely post though. And the comments are even better, with people revealing their favorite ‘hidden habits’ incidents….

  7. I guess hiding whether you eat non-veg/smoke/drink is cheating your own self. I remember a close friend of ours called us home one evening because he wanted to empty his well stocked freezer containing frozen non-veg snacks because his parents were coming for a week. And he is a grown man with grown kids who are all non-vegetarians. We told him to let the parents know about their favoured eating preferences, but he was not willing to listen a word about it! I felt bad for the kids and the kind of example that was being set for them!

    • “Cheating your own self” is absolutely correct! In addition, teaching your kids to cheat you in future!

      Is it a coincidence or is it design that ‘teach’ is an anagram of ‘cheat’? I don’t know whether to 🙂 or to 😦

  8. I was a regular smoker during my college days, but have given up 25 years ago. Now I wonder why I ever smoked.

    Cheating is very regular to those who practice irregular things. We do it as much to protect our image as to avoid hurting our loved ones. But this works only in the short run. Always better to give up these habits totally. YOU ACTUALLY BECOME HAPPIER.

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