I grew up in Jamaica in a time when children were to be seen and not heard, to speak when spoken to, to say please and thank you, to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and to have good manners when speaking to their elders or anyone else. Since my childhood, I’ve seen good manners become an unnecessary burden back home, and even moreso here in the US.
When I pass someone on the street and offer a nod good morning or good afternoon, they look away rather than responding in kind. People sneeze and cough into the air, never mind that I have to breathe in the mass of germs they just expelled. Children throw public tantrums and their parents have to ask them kindly to behave for fear that if they speak up or spank, they’ll be charged with child abuse. Or on the other side of that situation, parents curse at and around their children as if they were at a stripclub with their drinking buddies. I’ve seen children in the line at the supermarket commanding their grandmothers to buy them toys or candy. No please, no thank you, just “Give it to me! I want it!”… and Grandma complies. Oh the humanity! Had I tried any of that in my childhood, I would have got a slap square across the jaw. And I would have deserved it. It would have reinforced in me that it is not okay to be ill-mannered or disrespectful, and that there are consequences for bad behavior.
In a time when so many in a similar demographic to my own are sitting in jail or dead because of avoidable confrontation, it makes me wonder – are parents short changing their children by not teaching them basic manners and respect? I have no intention of blaming the victim in any case of wrongful death caused by Stand Your Ground slackness or any other such often thinly-veiled excuse for murder by prejudice. But I have to wonder, if Jordan Davis had left the radio turned down, because in fact loud music is offense to people not invited to the party, would he still be alive? Or if Chad Oulson hadn’t thrown popcorn at a cantankerous elderly man and simply shielded the light from his phone, because in fact cell phone use is restricted in movie theaters, would he still be alive?
Again I don’t blame the victims, but too often in American society, because free speech is encouraged, we become belligerent and cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed, just because we can. Back home in Jamaica, there are certain places where you know not to argue with anyone, because whether it be by slap or by bullet, if you don’t approach with humility, it will be taught to you.
Once Florida put Stand Your Ground on the books, free speech became a potential free pass to your own death sentence. The Oulson case proves it isn’t just racial bias that makes folks comfortable to shoot first then ask questions later. Popcorn as a weapon cost a small child her father and caused a wife to watch her husband bleed to death before her eyes. But why did he feel the need to throw the popcorn? Why did Davis feel the need to blast loud music when people nearby told him and his friends it was bothering them? If the players in these cases, on both sides, opted for common courtesy instead of ego and thoughtlessness, then their pride may have been hurt but everyone would probably still be alive and have forgotten all about these incidents within hours of their occurrence.
There are a number of other cases where lives are taken because of outright racial bias or homophobia. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about respect for basic human dignity, your own and that of the people around you, whether they give it back to you or not. When Jesus said “turn the other cheek” this very well may have been what He was talking about. Let rude people be. Becoming one of them might just cost you your life.
Calibe Thompson is a Jamaican-born entertainer, producer and TV personality. She hosts various news and commentary broadcasts for the educated Caribbean diaspora. Follow her @calibe.