Showing our respect, ma’am

Those of us old enough to remember Rodney Dangerfield will recall one of his classic statements: “I don’t get no respect.”

Like Rodney, I feel that the virtue of respect is a fading one, especially in the United States. How often do people no sooner meet someone, no matter what age or state of life, and immediately begin to address that person by his or her first name?

Worse yet is someone who calls a much older person “honey” or “dear.” I always joke that when young people in a store start calling you “madam,” you know you’re getting old. I like the older salesmen who say “miss.”

It amazes me when I hear children calling adults, and even teachers, by their first names.

When I was a kid we always called adults misses or mister. Close family friends were addressed as Uncle Mike or Aunt Dolores. We would never think of calling an adult by his or her first name unless specifically asked to do so.

Those who know me would probably agree that I am not a fuddy-duddy, but it really bothers me how students and young adults think nothing of using first names with people almost twice their age. When we were young we would never think to drop the titles brother, sister or father — at least to their faces — when speaking to priests or religious, or call the teacher Joe or the principal Helen.

In many languages there is a formal and familial way to address others. Many international students get confused because we do not have that same distinction in the English language. It is very difficult for our sisters from other cultures to address other sisters, especially older ones, without calling them sister.

Those of you who have persevered and are still reading this article are probably wondering what my point is regarding respect.

Some may have already written me off as old fashioned and someone who needs to “get with it.”

I don’t consider myself old fashioned, but I do think that respect is a virtue that is desperately needed in our society.

There are two kinds of respect: respect for self and respect for others. If we do not love and value ourselves, chances are we won’t respect and value the life of others. I believe that the lack of respect is often the cause of many conflicts in our families and our world.

It really doesn’t matter who we call by their first names, but when we do so regardless who the person is, there is an underlying attitude of disrespect. As Christians we are called to respect and care for each person, no matter what their status or rank in life, because all persons are made in the image and likeness of God and loved by God. How we address and treat one another often shows our level of respect.

Every person has a history, a story. Each person comes from a family and is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother or child. We are not just Social Security numbers. We have successes and disappointments. We all have feelings, hopes and dreams. Each person is unique and loved by God. Everyone, whether young or old, boss or worker, student or teacher, parent or child, deserves to be respected and cared for.

This week let’s treat each person we meet, no matter who he or she is, with dignity and respect. Let’s take the time to be present to each person we encounter and remember to treat him or her with the love and respect worthy of a child of God.

Sister Margie Lavonis is a Sister of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Ind. Contact her at