My kids have asked me in the past why manners matter, and why it's important to be polite, and my answer is always along the lines of, "because it shows respect for the people around you, and it demonstrates to others what kind of treatment you expect in return."
Do unto others... really, that's all it comes down to.
And, in this social bubble also comes respect for your elders. This means the grown-ups are in charge. You may not always like the rules, and you may not always like the mode of the message, but you will not sass those older than you.
When I was twelve, my mother once asked me to do something I was far too busy being a sassy pre-teen to do whatever it was, and after she had to ask me a second time, I rolled my eyes at her.
This was a mistake.
"Tracey," she said, with her finger pointing at me, "don't you dare roll those eyes at me, or I'll slap them right down your face. You understand?" It wasn't a question. And my mother is no slapping-mama... but she never made idle threats, either. She never had to. I think she stared at me for a full minute without blinking. Whoa.
She meant it. I apologised, and I never, ever did it again. Not even behind her back. That would have been suicidal, for sure. (All mothers have eyes in the backs of their heads, right? Everybody knows that.)
Eye-rolling is the perfect way to show contempt for the person you're speaking to. What you say doesn't matter to me, you idiot is what it says. It's rude as hell. I don't do it to other people (unless in jest - there's a huge difference) and I won't accept it from anyone else. Especially not a from a child. Not just because I'd want to knock their eyes out of their heads if they tried, but because it absolutely sends the wrong message. It says, we're equal, and really, we are not.
This is not about wielding power - it's simply that the grown-ups are in charge, until the children are grown and are in charge of themselves.
And when generations of kids start growing up, making demands and being cowed to about what they will and won't eat for dinner, and telling YOU when they will to go to bed, and having massive tantrums over every little thing they cannot have, and the grown-ups around them try to placate them because they're terrified that their children won't like them, and give in to their every demand, make them feel as if everything they say and do is precious and golden, make them feel as if there is NOTHING more important in the world than their happiness in this moment, make them feel as if they are the ones driving the bus... well, you get horrendous matters like this ferocious gaggle of twelve year old boys harassing their elderly school bus monitor, completely unprovoked, with their potty-mouthed diatribe, which just got more and more wicked and violent as they went on. A ten minute verbal attack on a lady just sitting there doing her job of trying not to let things get out of hand on the school bus on the way home. I have NEVER in my life...
I don't know what kind of resolve that poor woman had to have as not to backhand those smart-mouthed boys. Talk about a twitchy palm. A level-head would opt to avoid jail time, I guess... but, maaaan. Had it been my child? I WOULD SLAP THE BLACK OFF HIM. (Believe it.)
I'll mention here that I understand how mob-mentality works. One starts uttering outrageous things... it goes unchecked... another says something louder and more brutal, and the sky does not fall down... and the next thing you know, the group is ALL on the wrong side of correct, and this kind of thing gets whipped into such a froth, you can't tell who started what and everything goes to ruin in hurry. It can be easy to get swept into this kind of sea of maliciousness, especially if you're used to sassing grown-ups in your regular life, and telling them to eff-off with your eyes when you're not getting your way. I mean, how different is it, if you behave in a watered-down version of this every day?
And then it gets easy to rip a turban off that brown kid in your class. Or lynch that gay kid down the street. Before you know it you get genocide, and concentration camps. (Yes, seriously.)
I really don't know what's to be done, but tightening up on "acting right" has got to be a big part of the solution. The alternative is just too sobering.
I feel sick and disgusted. Don't you?