A Lesson in Respect

Posted on June 1st, 2011

On a recent flight to DFW, I was seated behind two US servicemen dressed in crisp white uniforms and shiny black shoes. Their seat mate was an older man who seemed genuinely excited to be sharing space with these young military men. Even before his seat belt was buckled, the older man was asking a litany of questions. Where were they going? What would their duties be? When might they be deployed?

While passengers continued to board the plane, I followed their conversation. The older man asked a question about the specifics of their training. Even his body language made it clear that he was genuinely interested in everything they had to say.

I was impressed that the young men, in their early twenties, were equally respectful and curious. They responded to every question without a hint of mockery or dread. Soon they were asking their own questions about the older man’s military experience. Though I couldn’t see the older man’s eyes, I imagined them to be dancing with joy. Even his voice became more animated as he shared stories of his long-ago military service.

I noticed, too, that the white-haired man was especially interested in how the young men use the latest technology in their jobs. He wanted to understand how computers and other technological advancements have changed the way the military works. A few minutes later when the older man talked about the equipment he had used back in his day, the young men let out an audible “wow.” They were genuinely impressed that he had done so much with so little.

Just as the flight attendant came on the speaker to review the safety rules, the older man announced, “Well, I’m sure proud of you boys. A lot of things have changed since I was in the service, but it’s great to know that the country is in good hands like yours. May God bless you and keep you safe.”

As I slumped back into my seat, my heart was stirred by the scene I had just witnessed. It made me wish for that kind of inter-generational respect throughout the church. In fact, I couldn’t help but think that this trio of airline passengers could teach the rest of us a thing or two about respect among the generations.

Perhaps the greatest lesson demonstrated by the young military men and their older peer is that they were genuinely interested in the other’s perspectives. There was no condescending tone, no shrugging shoulders, no muttering or whispering behind another’s back. They weren’t playing nicey-nicey or some political game. They just wanted to learn from each other.

It made me wonder what it would be like if every church member, council and agency did the same. What if we each sat on the edge of our seats with an intention to learn something new from another generation? One thing I know for sure. It has nothing to do with one-upsmanship. It is all about respect.

Each month, Missy Buchanan shares insight and strategies for rethinking 50-plus ministry. Her latest book, Don’t Write my Obituary Just Yet, is now available. You can find Missy online at www.missybuchanan.com, join her Facebook page Aging and Faith, and follow her on Twitter @MissyBuchanan.

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