I am curious to hear people's opinions on this topic.

Is this an inherently good and moral ideology?

Is it even good advice?

Does it actually have anything to do with morality?

Why is it such a universal concept?

I would argue that it should be dependent on the "elder" entirely, and that it does not have anything to do with morality. I think that everyone deserves a level of respect congruent with their actions. I understand that "elders" represent the wiser and more experienced members of a society and that it can be wise to take their advice, and seek their help with issues. I also understand that they can easily be as wrong as me on any topic. Experience does not automatically equate to useful experience, just as advice is not always good.

I am honestly curious about other's opinions though, as I am in the process of questioning every belief and value that I have. My aim is to objectively evaluate my values and beliefs and remove anything that is based solely on my past religious beliefs or societal beliefs that are based on the same.

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Comment by tom sarbeck on February 23, 2013 at 12:47am

There's been some research on this. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, in The Moral Judgment of Children, reported his finding on children's practice of and awareness of rules. Pertinent here and summarized below is their awareness of rules.

Piaget described three stages.

In the first stage he said they don't understand rules as obligations to act or not act in certain ways. A child may at one moment agree that a rule requires one thing and a moment later say a player, without other players' agreement, can do as she wants.

In the second stage he said children pass through two sub-stages. In the first they might insist the rules came from God; in the second they might insist that the rules came from their parents or from older relatives. Boys may say the rules came from their fathers or grandfathers; girls may say the rules came from their mothers or grandmothers. In both substages they insist that the rules cannot be changed.

In the third stage and until they lose interest, children know that when the other players agree they can themselves make rules or change them.

Piaget said too that 14-year-old boys often either rejoiced or mourned when they saw younger children set aside rules they had once followed.

Comment by Ted Foureagles on February 22, 2013 at 1:55pm

The concept of respect for elders seems to be a sociologically stable strategy, and so removing it from the equation would entail giving something up, even if we don't understand what it is. I try, occasionally successfully, to allow for respect outside my personal context. As example: most of my parent’s peers (but thankfully not my parents) were Bible-thumping members of the Ku Klux Klan. There's no way that I can view that from my perspective as anything but abhorrent. But to take my judgment and apply it out of context to their lives, and so write them off as irrelevant, would be to lose the perspective of that generation in that bit of history.


I can’t say for sure that, had I been born in North Carolina in 1920, I wouldn’t have held those same ideas.  They were all sewn-up in the social fabric, and hard to pick out unless you were outcast radicals like my Mom & Dad.  Or indeed like their parents, who happened to look a bit more Cherokee than was acceptable in that place at that time, and so were denied education and opportunity.  Had Grandpa been outspoken about that injustice in 1894, he simply would have been lynched – no doubt about it.  And so he made necessary compromises within the context of the society in which he lived.  Of course that doesn’t invalidate him as a candidate for my respect – quite the opposite.  But here’s the thing: in order to at least somewhat understand the situation in which he found himself, I have to try to understand the social context in which he lived.  Just writing those folk off as hateful, ignorant hillbillies might be momentarily satisfying, but it doesn’t teach.


My 9-year-old nephew and I have a close relationship.  I don’t particularly respect his love of fantasy fiction, and he might think that my lack of enthusiasm for Harry Potter is ugly and intolerant.  But we respect one another, and learn from our differences.



Comment by Lillie on February 22, 2013 at 1:24pm

I like this quote: "Be good to your children.  They get to choose your nursing home."

Comment by Daniel on February 22, 2013 at 12:57pm

Hmm...I too have had to build a moral code essentialy from scratch. The problem for me is that i still see morality sort of magical and and its very hard to disassociate morality from religion. Having said that, i do realize that what we call morals are really behaviors that have evolved in and with us even from when we were what can only be desrcibed as apes. Even mobern apes have simple morality although it not as complex as ours.

 I think on significant skill that seperates some of the more intelligent species of animals on this planet from the less, is the ability to learn from mistakes of others and to convey them to the next generation. (We dont go into that cave because there is a bear that ate grandpa). Now though we are more intelligent and can reason for ourselves, it could be said that untill a certain age in development we still should still give atleast great consideration to our elders. Its a thin line to walk because while that behavior is still quite usefull, it isnt always and if we start to take elders words for gospel, we start down the slope that made these religions in the first place.

Comment by tom sarbeck on February 22, 2013 at 4:27am

Lee, methinks some tribal elders somewhere long ago started teaching respect for elders because they wanted their offspring to care for them in their old age.

They might have started doing that when they stopped hunting and gathering and started growing crops; much later, some hunter-gatherer groups sent their old men out on hunts from which they weren't supposed to return.

Once in a philosophy class the instructor started musing along those lines and I asked him what those groups did with their old women.

Will you believe it, he got real pissed off and angrily said he wasn't a sociologist!

Comment by Lee Nix on February 21, 2013 at 10:00pm

All good points. I too believe that respect should be earned. I have always found it interesting that children are taught to respect and listen to adults, usually as a tool to keep them from interrupting conversations or to have them obey babysitters or aunts and uncles. I know that the word respect in that sense is meant the same as obey, but I am a huge fan of semantic studies and I think that it is a weird idea to implant into children's minds. Obey adults. Respect them. These things may seem the same, but I think that when a child first learns about the concept of respect in school, it could be confusing, and possibly a bad lesson for them to learn. 

Again, I know, semantics. But they do have a greater impact on children, and they do have an affect on us all.

You have all given me a lot more to think about, thank you!

Comment by Idaho Spud on February 21, 2013 at 2:54pm

I think respect has to be earned.  That does not mean we should be disparaging of someone unless or until they earn that.

Comment by Randall Smith on February 21, 2013 at 6:53am

In my (humble) opinion, one does not "owe" respect to any family member, be it parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, even spouses. They have to earn it (another topic for another day). That doesn't mean one has to be rude or disrespectful. Neutral will suffice.

Comment by Lee Nix on February 20, 2013 at 10:16pm

Very well put, Loren. Thank you!

Comment by Loren Miller on February 20, 2013 at 10:13pm

Being older does not by itself necessitate being WISER, certainly not if one's life is dominated by irrationality and superstition.  Certainly, there may be some quality of experience which will have a value.  The fact is that there may also be youths and young adults who aren't compromised by myths they WEREN'T taught as children and therewith be better equipped to deal with novel situations or circumstances than someone older but subjected and coerced by religious indoctrination.

The association of age and wisdom is one more stereotype which may or may not be true.  Better not to assume ... and put an ASS in front of U and ME.



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