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Respect for elders: a crime deterrent?

Is there a correlation between presence of a respected elder in a community, and safety?

Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander
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This is a personal story of a moment of feeling unsafe in Kingston, Jamaica. I was walking alone in early evening and soon noticed that I was being followed by a man who made me very uncomfortable. I looked for the nearest commercial establishment which was a jerk chicken shack. A woman who looked to be in her seventies sat outside at a table and looked the situation up and down. She saw me, looking alarmed, and the man - who from her expression seemed to have a reputation - and immediately knew what was happening. In a flash, she was out of her seat and started yelling at the man, waving her handkerchief in the air, and successfully shooed him away. 

She was clearly in charge. The man scurried away, looking ashamed, and she shook her head in annoyance at what had transpired.

It got me thinking about respect for elders - and how the presence of a respected elder may lead to improved safety in some communities around the world.


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Photo of Marina Okulova

Jamie, this has sparked some thoughts and reflections on my experience, or rather my mom's. My mom lives in St Petersburg, Russia, and is 65. The neighbourhood where my parents live is not considered lower/middle class and has deteriorated. Previously, most people knew each other as it was a small community but now more newcomers have moved in and younger families are around. There is not so much connection among neighbours as it used to be.

My mom got attacked one night as she was walking home - and it is a short walk from the tube to the house on a street that is lit up. Her attacker was a young guy, who most likely was trying to get some money for drugs. The important part is that it is a known phenomena that young drug addicts target older people because they know they will not put up much resistance, but at the same time will not have a lot of money on them. So the respect for elders is not only replaced by selective targeting of older people, but also is forgotten when it comes to people that are less familiar. I feel that when the education element is lacking, the degree of familiarity or cultural norms instilled in an individual play a massive role.

I think the point i am trying to make is that respect can be a very strong deterrent in certain communities and only work in others under certain conditions. And to best leverage it we may need to reflect on what other factors may need to be influenced to strengthen its effectiveness.

Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander

Hi Marina, and thank you for sharing such a powerful reflection and such deep insights about the nature of cultural norms and respect, and how it can be dangerous to look at one element in isolation. I completely agree that there are many factors that need to be considered in thinking about and designing any intervention aimed at changing behavior. Education is definitely one as you mention, and I think having other outlets or options for mobility, or some sort of hope is another. Perhaps a project celebrating the knowledge and contributions of elders in a community, coupled with an educational campaign is part of a solution. But unless there are other options available to people who are desperate, these may be of limited value. I'm so glad you raised this issue and am grateful for your openness and sharing such a personal story. I would love to hear any further reflections you or your mother may have on how this issue can be better addressed through an integrated strategy. (Coincidentally, in the featured contribution today, ) Nathan also talks about the importance of a holistic approach.

Photo of Marina Okulova

Jamie, thank you for your response and sharing the article. I think there is an important point in there which can contribute to the solution - it all starts in the childhood and the upbringing you get gives you a lense to see the world through. As you mentioned, people who do not feel like they have any other options and deem an option of violence as an option at all, may not necessarily be changed directly, however they may be influenced by their peers. Human are social creatures and we do what the others around us do too - group think and group conformity psychology always kicks in.

So may there be something about facilitating a movement within the community at risk (in my example the youth in the area of a certain age and employment/education status) that condemns violence and offers support in identifying other ways to address their issues - thereby distracting them from focussing on the violent options? It then becomes a broader community solution of focussing the effort and attention on identifying the problems that may have led the perpetrators to violence and targeting those, thereby removing incentive for violence toward the weaker population groups (elders, women)? It is almost like avoiding saying "don't do something" and encouraging people to "do something".

Another thought on how a shift in thinking may be supported is to work with children in the communities as "change agents" - they are the future but they are also those who can come to a parent or another adult and say something that might make an adult think, whereas the same phrase spoken by another adult might be dismissed.

There is a really powerful ad on smoking that illustrates this concept - When children, and especially boys, start questioning adults, the patterns on behaviour in the community might change. This point was also raised in another conversation, so I feel there are synergies .

I feel that violence towards women is a symptom of a broader underying issue in those who make the choice to abuse, and it is understanding that that may offer us solutions for the long term and with a holistic impact?

Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander

Thank you for sharing these thought-provoking insights, Marina. I agree that taking a positive or asset-based approach is key (instead of saying 'don't do something', encouraging people to 'do something.' And I was so intrigued by your suggestion to work with children in the communities as 'change agents', that I did a quick search online to see what came up. I found this interesting article, "How Children Can Assume Responsibility as Change Agents,

It makes sense that efforts aimed to empower children as change-makers would use sport as one avenue (which links with other contributions: and and )

Here are some excerpts from the article, about a program called Deport-ed para Compartir in Puebla, Mexico:

The program at its core is a set of teaching tools and training sessions that help to empower children ages six through 12 to become better citizens in their local communities and, eventually, assume responsibility as global changemakers.

It’s based on seven universal values—tolerance, fair play, responsibility, respect, gender equality, teamwork, and empathy. Teachers implement the curriculum in eight sessions (in concert with parents or community leaders), each focused around a Millennium Development Goal (MDG). Typically, lessons feature opportunities for students to talk about what they’ve learned and promote cultural diversity.

A child’s imagination, when paired with experiential learning opportunities, can be a powerful tool to confront global issues in new and innovative ways.

In the last five years, Deport-es para Compartir has worked with more than 161,000 boys and girls, teachers and parents in 19 states across Mexico to develop creative ways to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and more at a local level. Deport-es para Compartir has been successful in part because its lessons convey complex concepts in ways children can understand—often through sports and games...

After each game... Children can then reflect and come to their own conclusions. To ignite action, every session ends by asking children what they can do to address similar challenges in their own communities.

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