I coach high school basketball and I demand a high level of respect from my players, for the game, for each other, the refs, their opponents, and most certainly, for me. I am not, nor will I ever be, “Coach Mike”. I am not “hey you”, or “wassup?” And I am never, ever, ever, “dude”. I am simply Coach Spehn. Period.
This was made clear to a misguided cheerleader one afternoon as we rode to an away game. It was my habit to offer the boys on my team a trivia question or two as a way to pass the time. (The cheerleaders rarely rode the bus so this poor soul was unaccustomed to my expectations of behavior and respect.)
I offered up my question of the day – an old stand-by of mine that few ever get right, “What is the world’s largest desert?” – and the boys immediately began talking amongst themselves trying to formulate the answer. The cheerleader in question sat back in her seat and smirked, “School’s over for the day, take it easy on us dude!”
My players all froze for a moment, then let out a communal groan as they knew what would be coming next. I looked down at this fifteen year old and offered her another chance.
“You want to take another shot at that, young lady?” I asked her gritting through my teeth.
I felt a little sorry for the girl. Her parents had not cared enough to teach her the proper way to address authority figures. There is a way to address people in authority. That way is… with respect.
It used to be that way for our leaders as well. There was a time, since I’ve been alive, when we referred to the president as “Mr. President”, or “President Johnson”. Then, just after Watergate, media outlets began referring to the president as simply, “Ford” and “Carter”, leaving out the title altogether. Soon the general public caught on to this trend. It seeped into the fabric of our culture and soon, “Mrs Smith” from down the block became “Mary” to the neighbor kids. “Just call me ‘Mary’,” they would tell the nine years olds. Even among those who know better, they can’t quite break this habit completely. “Coach Jenkins” becomes “Coach Steve” and “Mrs. Johnson” becomes, “Miss Julie”.
What we don’t seem to get is that using these titles serves the kids more than it serves the title holder. Saying “Mr. President” says more about you than it does about the president himself. It tells me that you understand and respect the office. You understand that we live in a world that requires order and civility. Respect for authority is one way we demonstrate that. When we constantly degrade those in authority it is us who are diminished.
I am not naive. I realize that there are more than enough scoundrels in public office out there who do not deserve our respect. Great. Vote them out of office. But the constant harangue against the rightfully elected leaders, no matter who he or she is, at some point becomes self-fulfilling.
Yesterday on the Daily Show (a show I watch often and regard as great entertainment), I watched as our president was called “dude” on national television. Whether you like Barack Obama or hate Barack Obama, he is the President of United States and for that alone, he deserves better treatment. Because I don’t want a president who is just plain folks. I don’t want someone to go have a beer with me and let me call him dude. He is not a dude and I want him to know that and I want him to live up to that. I want him to expect me to demand more from him as well.
How about we all try a little harder to expect more from our leaders. One way we can do that is to start treating them with the same respect that we demand from them. And whether you like the president(or senator, or governor…) or you don’t, they were elected. And that simply has to mean something again. And… Whether I like him or not (and I do), Mr. Stewart was wrong to call my president dude.
All of this sounds like pie in the sky, I know. But I like pie.
And the world’s largest desert is Antarctica.