Although I probably won't see the latest revival of "Bye Bye Birdie" on Broadway, reading the review reminded me of that song that seems to ring truer and truer with each passing year. I find myself humming the words sotto voce, "Kids, what's the matter with kids today? Why can't they be like we were? Perfect in every way..."
Although obviously meant tongue in cheek, I wonder if it's just possible there is some reality to this.
I pondered this idea anew when one of my children described her recent homework assignment. Every day she (and each of her classmates) has to write down a story that demonstrates extra sensitivity.
I'm certainly in favor of sensitivity and the more the merrier. So I was curious to hear some examples.
"Well," she explained, "remember when my sister and I were at Walgreens and an elderly woman dropped all her change? We bent down to pick it up for her."
Like any mother, I love to find instances that highlight how unique and wonderful my children are, but this story left me puzzled. Yes I was glad they did it. But extra sensitivity? Isn't that just basic common decency?
Apparently not – since no one else in the store made a move to help.
I think it's unfortunate that treating others with basic respect has been redefined as extra sensitivity (the dumbing down of manners?), but perhaps the character in "Bye, Bye Birdie" asked the wrong question. If our children aren't behaving the way we'd like them to (how many times has someone's child walked through the door in front of you and let it slam in your face?), it's not their fault -- it's ours.
We are the ones whose example they're following. If we're dismissive of others, if we put our own needs first, that's the lesson they'll learn. And if we are "extra" sensitive, then in all likelihood they will be too (adolescent behavior notwithstanding!).
A lot of this is just courtesy – saying thank you to the saleswoman, not leaving all the clothes on the dressing room floor, waiting patiently in line (if we don't yell at the bank teller these days, we are elevated to the level of the truly righteous!), going easy on the horn...I read once that it inconsiderate to go rushing by an older person. It makes them all the more conscious of their age and infirmity. It's more appropriate to slow down our pace and walk in a more measured way as we pass. Sensitive? Yes. Extra sensitive? Maybe.
I think it all boils down to that most basic of Torah edicts, "V'ahavta leraiecha kemocha – Love your neighbor like yourself."
We understand this to command not emotion but rather action: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Certainly we would like to be treated with common courtesy. Most likely we would prefer extra sensitivity. But if we want to see it in our children, we need to show them the way.
The real question should be "What's the matter with grown-ups today?"