A while ago someone posted on social media a video of a young boy giving up his seat on a packed train to an old woman. Many people commented positively on this video with one person saying that the boy “has been raised by a queen”.

I thought to myself: what is so special about this? Is this not what we are supposed to do? I admit that I grew up many years before the boy in the video, but when we grew up, we were taught to give up our seats in trains and buses if a woman, especially a pregnant or older woman, was standing. This, we were taught, was basic respect.

Could that be what is wrong with our society today? That we have forgotten the meaning and the practice of respect? Or do the problems in our society, especially with regards to lawlessness, run much deeper than this? It is easy when respect does not exist to commit crimes against others without thinking of the possible consequences and the impact on the victims.

How does one explain the rape of a seven-year-old in the bathroom of a restaurant by a 20-year-old man who had been stalking her? How does one explain the rape of a 17-year-old in hospital shortly after she had given birth by someone posing as a doctor?

Of all the bad news that we had to deal with this week, these two stories continue to haunt me. What kind of person does something like this? At times like this, the “bring-back-the-death-penalty” brigade become more vociferous and those of us who believe in a more human rights approach to justice find ourselves being shouted into silence.

How does one explain the many attacks on educators by learners who are supposed to be valuing the experience of sharing the educators’ wisdom? I don’t think it is only because educators are no longer respected by learners, as an MEC said last week. I think there is a general lack of respect throughout society.

Part of it is because everyone nowadays only think of themselves and don’t consider the plight of others. Part of it could be because those in power have no empathy with those who suffer in our society. In many cases, they have forgotten where they come from. If our default position was to respect each other, our society would be a much better place in which to live.

The other story that has been playing in my mind over and over this week has been the police action against protestors in Bonteheuwel and other parts of Cape Town. When the police see a bigger threat in people who are protesting against gangsterism than in the gangsters themselves, then we have a serious problem.

It was shocking to see video footage of Henrietta Abrahams, who fought against apartheid, being dragged by police when they arrested her. It is disgusting that this should happen almost 25 years into our democracy.

Communities on the Cape Flats continue to be terrorised by gangsters and drug dealers and, from where I sit, most of the police do not do too much about it. Maybe it has to do with the low level of respect the police have for people in these communities? Maybe the police have more respect for the gangsters and drug dealers?

As we head into elections next year, there will be many more examples of people showing disrespect to others. Politicians are notorious for dragging debate, if one can call it that, into the gutter.

But the best way to infuse respect in our society is by starting at home. Parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children about respect for others, as well as for the environment. Too many parents have abdicated their responsibility in their children’s education to teachers. Education needs to begin at home and before children reach school-going age.

Ryland Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher)

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