6/20/2009

When did respect become disrespectful?

Warning - a rant follows. You.Have.Been.Warned.

When I was young, my very old school parents taught me to show signs of respect with answering direct questions from those who held positions of authority over me with Sir and Ma'am. Not every question mind you. I never needed to address my teachers as Sir or Ma'am when answering a basic educational question. Yet if an adult (Teacher, relative, etc) was questioning me about an action, deed, or other issue, the proper responses were "Yes Ma'am". "No sir".

For example. "Did you clean your room?" "No sir".

Irrespective of the fact that some folks believe that the phrase Ma'am or Sir make the receiver of the salutation "old" or "stodgy", this is a tradition, or more importantly a nicety, that I have worked on instilling in my children as well. Ma'am and Sir are a sign of respect for those around my children, and indicate that a different kind of relationship exists . Not "friends". Not "team mates in a locker room". Not "peers".

Respect has always been a big issue with me. For example, whether my political ideology agreed or not with current and past presidents, I have always referred to them as President nonetheless. I chide gently those who refer to "Bush", "Clinton", "Carter" or "Obama" by only their last names, or even by using the "more respectful" Mister. These are folks that gave their time, energies and in most cases youth to the people of the United States.

Their gift to the US (whether you agree with their time in office or not) means that they have rightfully earned the title President Bush, President Bush, President Carter, President Clinton, and President Obama. That is, unless you are a member of the military. Then you address them as Sir; there are no Ma'ams in this crew. That is protocol. Period. These gentlemen outrank every member of our Armed Services, bar none. Commander in Chief or Past Commander in Chief trumps all.

There is a pecking order in the world. If you don't believe me, just try telling your boss to bugger off. Try telling your mother "Screw you, I am not going to do it. Do it yourself". Try telling your aunt "I don't care what you think. You are an idiot". Tell your grandmother "You are old and don't know what the hell you are talking about". Tell your teacher "I don't have to listen to you". Tell the police officer that pulls you over "You don't have the right to give me a ticket you jackass". Let the private in the military tell his Drill Sargeant "I am not going to shine my shoes - you can lick shine 'em for me".

(Okay, even typing all of the examples above made my heart twitch thinking "somebody is gonna roast my butt for being disrespectful")

Are you getting that this is important to me? It isn't that the Sir or Ma'am is "better than me". It is that I respect the position of Authority that the Sir or Ma'am represents. This is something that our Military understands very well - and has extensive protocols in place to ensure the continuation of.

So when I heard the flap that was created by Senator Barbara Boxer this week during tense Senate Hearings whereby she demanded patronizingly and condescendingly that that Brigadier General Michael Walsh cease calling her Ma'am and call her "Senator", after all "It's just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title. I'd appreciate it.", I about blew a Mom gasket.


Yes Ma'am, Senator Boxer, you are indeed a Senator. You worked long and hard to get to that position. Your leanings have often been anti-military and that is okay. But did you have to completely show your ignorance to the whole world?

I would expect that a member of the US Legislative Body built on Roberts Rules and protocol, would understand - nay KNOW that his responses to her in the form of "Ma'am" were 100% on point, appropriate, and showing the utmost respect.

For a host of reasons, General Walsh's use of the term "Ma'am" rather than "Senator" was highly appropriate and correct.
1. She holds a position of Authority over him in her capacity as a US Senator.
2. She was directly questioning him in an official capacity in an open Senate hearing.
3. She is clearly not a "sir".

(and snarkily)

4. She herself bypassed "titles" in favor of the official form of "Ma'am" when questioning former US Secretary Condaleeza Rice by repeatedly calling her "Madam" rather than "Secretary Rice". (While Secretary Rice responded with "Senator").

Thankfully, the General attended each and every protocol class. He was directed by a superior to use a different title and he began to at that moment. Thank you for that Sir.

Yet it appears that Senator Boxer missed the class in protocol. Or she missed the class in elementary school? Perhaps she took a day off when her mother was teaching manners class in their house?

Perhaps, quite simply, she was raised without any class at all.

Side Notes:
  • General Walsh would, under protocol, call President Obama "Sir" when being questioned.
  • General Walsh, would, under protocol, call ME Ma'am in verbal and written communications. Civilians without rank are also denoted as "Sir and Ma'am" as a matter of respect for the US Citizen.







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