Food For Thought

Show Me Some Respect: I'm A Senior

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

A favorite comment of comedian Rodney Dangerfield is, “I get no respect.” Rodney doesn’t realize how true his statement is in our society today. My mother expected her children to show the utmost courtesy and respect to everyone, including family members and older people.

“Senior citizen” wasn’t a term used in those days. I still remember one Christmas shopping trip to the nearby town of Charleroi, Pa., where my mother reinforced her expectation. The bus was an integral part of community travel in those days and on this particular trip the bus was full of passengers and every seat was occupied. An elderly woman got on the bus and mom said to me, “Get up and give the lady your seat.” I guess I put up a fuss about relinquishing my seat, so mom warmed my personal seat to remind me to meet her expectations. It left a lasting impression.  I deserved the punishment and relinquished both seats for a better cause.

I somewhat modified mom’s philosophy when I became a parent. I told my children no one deserves your disrespect, but your respect must be earned. A person shouldn’t automatically earn respect just by getting older, if they haven’t used those God-given years wisely for the betterment of themselves and their fellow man. Always extend common courtesy to everyone you meet and the age part will take care of itself. I still believe in this philosophy, but I often wonder if youths today, with all their education, understand its true meaning. The level of disrespect has increased during the past 50 years. Senior citizens, parents, teachers, law-enforcement officers and others no longer automatically get the respect that their titles once brought. Everyone is expected to earn respect, and in many cases, the adults have failed to do so.

I’ve searched my own mind trying to understand why today’s society is less respectful. I’m constantly asking myself why being a senior citizen no longer has the status it once had. The full answer to such a complex question is beyond the space allotted to this article, but I believe that the breakdown of the basic family unit has significantly contributed to the problem. In today’s world mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, aren’t willing to tough it out for the kids. In many cases we are trying to buy their respect in a store rather than provide them with the precious commodity of time. You can’t buy respect — it must be earned. And the giving of time is an important element in the equation for respect. Society’s preoccupation with using time for creating wealth has contributed to increased disrespect among today’s youth and many adults. They value things more than people. 

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.








We can’t blame the lack-of-respect problem on the education system. Educators are facing a more difficult job because today’s parents have shown less respect for educational instruction and teachers than their parents did a few decades ago. Their children have quickly assimilated this trait. Today’s parents have followed my advice requiring our teachers to earn their respect, but they haven’t done a good job teaching their children not to disrespect anyone. One bright note — my son, who is a middle school teacher, says he’s noticed a significant positive change in parents’ attitudes toward teachers, and they seem to show more respect for the education profession. I’m hoping it will carry over to the senior population.

What Senior Citizens Really Need

We senior citizens have also fallen into the economic trap. Almost everywhere you go someone is giving us a senior-citizen discount. I went to the local buffet recently with my oldest son. My wife and I got a discount, he had to pay full price. I guess someone established the value of my living for more than 60 years at the prescribed 10-percent discount. My children need the discount more than I do. What I needed was a seat, and nobody offered one. I guess things haven’t changed much since my childhood bus ride.

Maybe we should give our young people a 10-percent discount for voting — that may entice them to vote like the discount entices us to eat at the buffet. I heard one group of youngsters discussing senior discounts as a form of discrimination and they were contemplating a class-action suit. I think we’ve also taught them to rely on the legal community to help solve their problems. None were willing to let us go to the front of the line.

We senior citizens will need younger people more and more as our population matures. They are the ones who will be the future health-care workers and financial contributors to the various health-care programs established to take care of seniors. They will be asked to devote more of their time and resources to support the country’s senior population. Adequate medical care is the most important issue we seniors will face. Many organizations are working on our behalf, including Congress, which is currently debating a prescription-drug program for older Americans. Maybe we should take all the senior discounts and put that money towards medical help. If society emphasizes people over things, maybe our youth and young adults will see the many contributions senior citizens have made to their lives. Then they may be more willing to give up their seat on the bus so we can have an easier ride to our final destination.


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