Actually, this was the title of a classic film from the 60’s. It had a famous soundtrack with a great song by Petula Clark. I’m aging myself, and that’s what this post is really all about. I’ve now noticed that everywhere I go people keep calling me “sir” – even old guys at church, gentlemen that I would refer to as sir – they are now calling me “sir” – what’s happened?
Have I all of sudden aged? Maybe. The past few years have been unusually severe. But I can’t imagine it would turn me into a “sir” – maybe a “bub” or “crackpot” – but whenever I hear “sir” I recoil with a slight shock. Are we as a society suddenly becoming very proper? I doubt it.
My students send me emails addressing me as “hey.” I’m not a professor so much as just another tweet. We had Christmas stockings hung in our college and all the faculty members had their first names only spelled out. All very casual. No danger of too much respect happening here.
Every now and then I run across a young man who will say “yes, sir” over and over. He’s been well-trained and full of respectful interaction conduct. During those rare exchanges I feel like I’ve fallen into a military academy. Sometimes it’s a little over the top.
Is there a bigger application here? The last census reported that a third of our children live without their biological father. How do kids, especially young males, learn respect for authority figures like teachers, police, coaches, ministers and older relatives? How successful can this be in a single-parent home (usually a home with a single mom and no male father figure present)?
My point is that the fabric that holds our society together is stitched with all kinds of common values and practices. When we aren’t able to pass on much that we have in common, like how to demonstrate respect or live/work together in an orderly fashion, then we start to experience a kind of disintegration that keeps each one of us from thriving as well as we could. Those kids who were raised in fragmented homes end up missing out on valuable elements of social capital (habits, attitudes and behaviors) that benefit them once they begin their ascent into the larger society.
I’m not suggesting all our problems would be solved if we all started calling each other “sir.” What I mean is that all the little ways that we treat each other begins to reveal how well we’re actually held together as a society of real people. And… sitting around in a room full of strangers glued to your cell phone isn’t doing much to keep our fabric from fraying.