The audio tapes have been making the news: A child giving directions to pilots at JFK airport. The father is heard saying “this is what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school.” (Interestingly the tapes occur around 8:00 p.m. Is the child in night school or is dad bringing him to work because the child doesn’t have to get up in the morning for school?) While some pilots sound amused, the FAA is investigating and says this “does not demonstrate the kind of professionalism expected from FAA employees”; the father and his supervisor have both been suspended. At best, this may be a poor back-up plan when school is out, at worst, it’s another indicator of how far the pendulum has swung from common sense, good manners, strong work ethic, and thoughtful, responsible behavior.
I am part of the Baby Boomer generation, the “me” generation whose mottos included: Question the Establishment, Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30 and Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. Despite our self-absorbed interests and behavior, we’ve also had a huge impact on the women’s movement and race relations. There are a number of positive changes to our culture due to my generation. As is common with change however, sometimes the pendulum swings too far, and in this case, it appears through a lack of manners, respect, and common courtesy. Unfortunately, I think my generation has taught this to subsequent generations and it is getting worse, not better.
As a child, my co-horts and I were taught to shake hands, say “How do you do, Mr./Mrs. X?” and call elders by last name until given permission to use their first name. Today, I am introduced to people’s children by first name only. The children don’t extend their hands nor do they learn different ways (and reasons) to address people because that’s not what they’re taught. In Driver’s Ed, we were taught to drive to the next exit or the next corner to turn around if we hadn’t moved over to the far right lane to exit the freeway, or realized belatedly our turn was just ahead. Today, people quickly cut across two (or more) lanes of traffic to access the exit, and they hold up local traffic waiting for a break to move over to turn at this corner. When crossing a parking lot we watched for cars and took the shortest route to get out of their way, and we walked along the side by the parked cars, not down the middle of the lane where the cars were driving. I can hear parents saying “Get out of the way, there’s a car coming! Look where you’re going!” Now people take their time, meandering diagonally through the parking lot or down the middle of the lane, seldom concerned whether there is a car following. (Hopefully it’s not a car with acceleration problems.)
The Air Traffic Controller is another example of lack of consideration for others. If kids are out of school, a back-up plan is important, and infringing on your employer and co-workers is not the back-up plan. Without a back-up plan, you stay home with your child. Kids get bored, they don’t sit still, their voices get loud, they have short attention spans and work isn’t a fun place for them for very long. You aren’t giving your full attention to your job if you are watching your child while at work. Few co-workers will voice their disapproval and concerns about the disruption to the parent who brings the kid(s) to the office.
When appropriate, we can relax our standards whether it’s language, behavior, dress, or professionalism. It’s a challenge to raise our standards if the basics weren’t there in the beginning. I hope we Boomers, who received the gift of being taught these basics, can be better role models going forward. There’s still time to share with others the reasons and how to demonstrate more polite, thoughtful, respectful, and responsible behavior when interacting at work, on the road, in the parking lot, wherever.