The concept of respect for elders is something that is drummed into most Cameroonian children. You serve the elder. You let the elder go first. You stand up to let an elder sit. You do not talk back or talk at all when an elder talks to you.There are certain things you do not do in the presence of an elder, certain things you don’t say. There is a certain amount of respect that is expected of you as a child and that respect will be taught to you by any means necessary if you mess around.
I have no problem with teaching children respect, starting with respect for themselves and belief in their own self efficacy. This respect for self should ideally extend to others – every human being should be compassionate and humble enough to give others the courtesies and allowances they’d expect in return. Also, society is made of hierarchies. Hierarchies of knowledge, so the less knowledgeable should be willing to humble themselves and learn from the more knowledgeable. Hierarchies of power and influence, so tact is important. Children and everyone for that matter should be able to discern when a certain amount of deference is necessary.
So respect is important and I’ll never refuse that.
The reason for today’s rant, however, is this idea that we Cameroonians (especially Anglophone Cameroonians of the Grassfields variety), seem to have attached ourselves to, that age is the single deciding factor of who gets respect and who doesn’t. What this usually means is that the moment an elder person hears/sees a younger person saying /doing something they don’t agree with or something they don’t like for whatever reason, whether or not it is right or wrong, they come in expecting their opinions and (often unsolicited) advice to be heeded without challenge. If you DARE challenge them, the “disrespectful younger person” card gets thrown at you so fast, you start to wonder if you are encouraged to go to school and develop independent thinking capabilities, a critical mind and informed opinions just to pass time. Multiply this tendency by 1000 if you are a girl.
As you all can imagine, being a Find Palava Woman is not without its challenges. My response to such situations is usually along the lines of :
Here’s the thing. Teaching a child respect is one thing. Unilaterally expecting respect, no matter what you do or say or how you act, simply because you are older is BS, especially if the person you are dealing with is a young adult. This is important because young adults are in the process of setting up their own roots and the foundations that will influence the path that the rest of their adult lives take. They are not without experiences and ideas to guide and inform their own decisions. Maybe these are not as rich as the elders, but they are relevant all the same. They should not be dismissed simply because of age.
Ironically, my writing this blog post would even be construed by some as an act of disrespect but know what folks? I have zero damns to give. This madness has to stop. Being older may give the advantage of time and experience which is indeed worthy of respect, but that respect still has to be earned. If you show yourself forth as not worthy of respect, that is how you should expect to be treated. If the younger person still chooses to respect you, it is more a function of their good manners and tolerance, than any respect you feel is your due. And if those good manners and tolerance have run out… well…