I had Paul the plumber in the other day replacing a sink and vanity in the downstairs bathroom. Paul’s been here before, so we know each other. He’s in his 40s; I’m 55.
Because this job was more involved than just fixing a toilet valve, he had to ask questions from time to time. Invariably, he began with “Sir? I need to ask you…”
After a few iterations of this, I kidded him, “Paul, do I really look that old that you have to keep calling me ‘Sir?’”
“It’s how I was raised…” and he started to say “sir” again, but then hesitated. “Me, too,” I said. “Mom and Dad always made sure we got that one right. None of this yeah and nah. It was always “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am.” I don’t think that’s much in fashion these days.”
Too bad. To me, it’s a mark of respect for other people – particularly those in authority. It’s not kowtowing, fawning or pandering. It’s saying “I respect you.”
Maybe our techno culture doesn’t mesh well with Yes, Sir and No, Ma’am – too formal sounding. Employees are associates or team members and business casual or even less formal styles of attire dominate. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean we should respect other people any less.
I do several things not in fashion these days. I’m not looking for any accolades or honors. Because it’s the way I was raised, I don’t even think much about it.
I’ve always held doors open for other people – men as well as women. The reactions I get are interesting. People older than me seem genuinely surprised. I guess it doesn’t happen that much. The strangest reaction I get seems to be from some young women. They give me a look that seems to say, “Oh, so you don’t think I can open the door myself, you male chauvinist.” Lighten up!
It’s been said that our society has become coarser than ever before in spite of its technological advances. Everywhere from the boardroom to the playground to the halls of Congress, civility seems to have vanished. It’s just a lack of respect. Do I really believe that? Yes, sir, I do.