Remember those bygone days when young ladies used to talk like ladies and boys used to treat them as such; pity and a thousand pities that that is just what they are now - bygone days. In all honesty, I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment when this loss of verbal dignity came to pass, neither can I, in all honesty, absolve our own generation of it. Our parents were, perhaps, better parents, more aware of what was due to their children not just in terms of material provisions, but, more importantly, in terms of moral provisions. Spending time to educate us on manners, on indispensable courtesies due to others, on checking our ever-ready tongue in front of elders, on telling us when to keep silent and when to respond was so inherently inbuilt in their way of living that it did not even feel like we were being given invaluable lessons in dignity and grace. So, where did we go wrong in this exercise when it came to imparting this brand of wisdom to our kids?

As I was growing up, one sentence that my elders so casually instilled in my consciousness, so emphatically, was that you can accurately judge a girl’s character and upbringing by her gait and her speech, and that invariably led to how others would treat her. If I was to apply that maxim generally today then, barring exceptions, it would seem all young ladies have been brought up in the gutter. No wonder, there is such a lack of respect between genders at school level these days, if a girl uses profanity to express herself that is exactly what she is doing - expressing ‘herself’. Going through a series of comments on a link my nephew posted on his Facebook profile, I was disturbingly intrigued by some of the things his female friends were saying to apparently each other. It seems calling one’s friend by the female version of a dog is quite the thing these days and very readily accepted so is the use of the ‘F’ word. It did lead me to consider quite hopelessly that, perhaps, they were not aware of the technical meaning of their utterances, a thought that was just as speedily discarded because, in all probability, they unfortunately were. So, where had the reserve gone? Apparently, down the drain along with their moral standards. I did the next thing any optimist will do and I asked my nephew whether all girls in his class talk like this, his affirmative did irreparable damage to my budding hope system.

Another glaring disparity between our time and the times we see today is how boys, for example, consider it cool to smoke in front of elders, girls, teachers, anyone and everyone. Boys have been smoking ever since boys have been boys, but this was more a habit to be enjoyed among friends away from ladies or elders, instead of a disregard to be flaunted without thought or care for others, whenever one wished to. I think the fact that it presents them more in the light of inconsiderate morons than cool Casanovas, for the moment, eludes them.

Now, the only question that remained was how to deal with this problem. A more selfish reason being, I have children of my own soon to be entering the frightening school social scene. Hence the birth of this narrative, aimed at two specific reader categories. First and foremost, these extremely intelligent, highly-perceptive kids, for them I can only say 10 years down the road you, probably, will have a better sense of what is due to yourself and others when you speak, but if you can inculcate the habit of talking in a way that whoever is within hearing range is unconsciously attracted to you as an exceptional individual, which each and every one of you is, I ask you, what is the harm? Think of all those times when tears were shed because of some spiteful remark, or a line crossing statement, or a few nasty laughs at your expense and then consider could you have behaved in a way that could have spared you the heartache. I can only tell you from experience that people will always treat you the way you will allow them to. This does not mean a forceful adherence to your whim, but the way they perceive you, how you treat others, how you carry yourself and, most importantly, how you speak will set their boundaries. Do not be afraid of peer pressure, of being the odd one out to instil this sense of pride in yourself, trust me you will be a trendsetter and if you do stand apart, it will be a place above the rest. That’s not a bad deal after all, is it?

The second category is my generation. How did we ever let this happen with our kids? Weren’t we supposed to monitor and, more importantly, filter what they were being exposed to? Does it not matter to us that our children should not represent their lineage, their upbringing in the way they speak? When did the boundaries between being vulgar and being cool disappear for our children? A few years down the road when these very children will stand before us as adults and we will see neither respect in their eyes, nor reserve on their tongue, who will we blame then? The thought that we did not teach them to behave, thus will only be answered by the resounding realisation that we did not teach them at all. That we failed in our duty to tell our young what is right and what is wrong, what is the importance of the spoken word, the filial nod, and the lowered gaze. Maybe it isn’t too late for us yet, and maybe with all that is changing around us, we can still maintain integrity, morality and thereby our identity.

    The writer is a freelance columnist based in the US.

    Email: markazeyaqeen@gmail.com