Monday, 11 February 2013 | No Comments
This year, according to the Chinese calendar, is the Year of the Snake, my year as it turns out, as I turn 36 this year. There are 12 animals corresponding with every 12 years, starting with the year you are born. I was born in 1977, hence ’77, ’89, ’01, and this year, 2013. It’s usually a time of extended festivities and visitations to family and friends, feasting on CNY goodies, lots of good, home-cooked food, and giving out of hongbaos (red packets). 1-2 years ago, our extended family began imposing a new “system” for distributing hongbaos. All the elders (grandma, and the uncles and aunties) would take turns sitting in the living room, and every cousin, nephew, niece, and grandchild was expected to go up to greet them with oranges before receiving their hongbao.
Some background – In previous years, since I was a young boy, they would just all go around giving it out to whoever they see, and trust me, it does get pretty messy, as I have (living), 1 grandmother, 6 uncles/aunties, 16 cousins, and 6 nieces/nephews. Seniors are expected to give to juniors, hence uncles/aunties to cousins, older cousins to younger cousins, cousins to nephews/nieces, and so on and so forth. Usually the amount in hongbaos is meant to be a token of blessing or good luck (for non-Christians), but in my family, it has really gone up a lot as many are affluent and give large amounts, sometimes even 3-figure.
Anyway, a week or so before CNY, one or 2 aunties began whatsapp texting about the time, procedure and rationale for the “distribution system”. What bothers me is that the reason given is that the younger ones need to learn to respect their elders and greet them. I have no problem with the value of respecting elders, and I do agree that this is sorely lacking in younger generations these days. However, I don’t see this system or practice as helping or effective in instilling such values to our children. They start threatening or enticing them by saying, “If you don’t greet me, you’re not going to get your money (hongbao)…” or “If you come greet me, or if you are good, I will give you a bigger hongbao…” What becomes of the motivation to respect their elders is greed and money. Hence, I stand my ground and refuse to be sucked into such a system, and I will not subject my children to such “teaching” or methods as it has negative impacts and side effects. I will still teach my son to always be respectful to his elders, to greet them, to acknowledge them before meals, to show them kindness and blessing, and to accord reverence and honour as due. But I will not ask them to do it for the sake of money, or receiving hongbaos. I would rather they forego those hongbaos when aunties start pestering you (twice!) that I have not greeted their husband (uncle) and gotten the hongbao for my son. Anyway, the aunty who insisted on having the system came 1 hour late, and everyone had to wait for their family before starting the distribution, and everyone had to take their turn whilst everyone else looked on, like a wayang (pretend) show of sorts.
In this case, honour or respect is not so much earned or gained, but rather accorded due to age and seniority, but such actions and behaviour leads me to lose even more respect for them as they demand obedience and compliance just because they exercise their “authority” or rights as elders. That is “lording their authority,” and that, in my book, sits right down there in the pile with other negative traits and vices.
Respect, yes. Forced compliance with greed motivations, no.