By Dr. Angelika Selle

Looking at today’s society, especially here in the United States, we don’t see much of what used to be called filial piety. Over the last 50 to 60 years, the tradition of giving honor and respect to parents, older adults, teachers, civic leaders, and so forth seems to have slipped away. Even in the business arena, Gen Z and others are challenging standards of respect. In our American culture, many children call their parents by their first names, treat them as equals or disrespect them. Popular movies and shows routinely put parents down.

As a result of this decline in generational respect, family bonds and culture are weakening, and our younger people can often feel a sense of inner emptiness, insecurity, loneliness, despair, and even hopelessness—indeed, not happiness. But the problem doesn’t rest only with youth, of course. When parents treat their children with disrespect and don’t truly invest and sacrifice for them, it is naturally more challenging for children to develop a respectful and loving heart.

Without a loving parent-child relationship, many potentially beautiful moments are missed. The challenge is finding the means to reintroduce respectful relations, love, and a filial heart in today’s families. It’s a huge enterprise, but it would surely lead to greater happiness for parents and children and enhance our society.

Thinking back to my childhood, I had an excellent relationship with my parents (although they divorced when I was a young adult). Having been raised in the Catholic tradition, I was taught from early childhood to obey my parents, respect my elders, observe etiquette, exhibit kindness with friends, and behave with decorum in public and at home. Although it was not always easy to obey when my mother asked me to do something like the dishes or when my father asked me to go to the cellar and fetch some coal for the oven, I overcame my dislike and complaint every time. I did the dishes or brought the coal. I felt a sense of inner joy and peace. I also felt good about myself. As I grew older, I  began volunteering to help my parents, which gave me an even greater sense of ownership and self-esteem. Even when someone did not appreciate my work, my heart felt always at peace.

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