After a speech in which I addressed the needs of the Y Generation last year, I was approached by an older woman who grabbed me by the arm and simply said: "What about reciprocity?"
Live true to your values, not your mum or nanna's
A little taken aback and confused, I asked her what she meant.
She went on to explain that her Y Generation grandchildren felt no obligation to follow her lead, take her advice or live in a way she found acceptable. She went on to suggest that her grandchildren had a responsibility to reciprocate her contribution to their lives by following her lead, taking her advice and living in a way she found acceptable.
She was disappointed when she found no ally in me. I told her that, in my view, her grandchildren and children had no obligation to behave the way she wanted.
I suggested that the first obligation any of us have in this regard is to behave in a manner that is consistent with our values, which in turn suggests a second obligation – to know what our values are.
She went on to say that there should be some respect for her as the result of her senior years, to which I replied that respect had to be earned and could not simply be acquired with age.
I will address respect in another missive, but I will restate here my view that nobody has any obligation to any other person to live their life in a manner consistent with the expectations or views of another person – no matter who that person may be. I say again, our primary obligation is to behave in a manner consistent with our values.
A point that seemed to be missed by the grandmother related to the impact she had or hadn't had on the values of her grandchildren. While she cannot determine the values of her grandchildren, she can help the development of values.
In the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the father of Sydney Poitier's character said to him: "When you were a boy, I walked 75,000 miles delivering mail to ensure you got an education – you owe me, boy!". The son responded: "I don’t care if you walked a million miles, i owe you nothing. I owe my son, should i ever have another one, everything."
I am not sure anything is that simple, but the underlying point is valid. In terms of how we live our lives, we owe nothing to anyone.
We do, however, have very substantial obligations to create an environment in which our children can form strong values. We also need to instil in them the importance of values.
An Indian friend of mine said that he would soon marry because his mother thought it important. While appreciating the cultural issues here, I suggested to him that this was madness. He saw little value and a great deal of expense in getting married, which was a concern as he was starting a new business. He suggested, however, that he simply could not live with his girlfriend.
Of course, my friend's mother was also responding to her ‘obligations’ rather than her values.
Culture or not, this means that my friend is living by his mother’s values and having his behaviour determined, not by his own values, but by his mother’s. Rather than the world moving forward, it is standing still – or moving backwards.
My mother wanted me to marry also, and while there was not the same cultural expectation, I saw no value in marriage and still don’t. My mother wanted me to be a Christian, but as this was inconsistent with my values, it never happened.
If the world is going to progress we should all behave in a manner consistent with our values rather than the expectations of others. To expect people to live by your expectations, or in a way that suits you, is to buy into socialisation.
The socialisation process is both ugly and retarding