Last week, I was at cross country practice on a distance run. A police car drove by our team, and I looked into the window of his car and saw the officer with his smart-phone in his lap, texting as he drove. I knew it was rude, but I just couldn’t resist the irony, so I ran by his window and said, “Hey, you shouldn’t text while driving; it’s dangerous.” I didn’t shout it or use any profanity, but I definitely said it with some attitude.
A quarter-mile later, the officer pulled up in his car and made us stop running. He asked who made the “smart comment” earlier. I owned up, and he asked to talk to me about it. He made the rest of the team continue the run, leaving us alone.
Officer: You (expletive), who the (expletive) do you think you are, making some (expletive) comment like that about me. I deserve more respect than your (double expletive) showed me. I’m out here on these streets trying to deal with (expletive) way worse than you. Do think you’re a (expletive)?
Officer: Do you think you disrespected me?
Officer: How old are you?
Officer: 17; I’ve been out on these (expletive) streets since you were smaller than your daddy’s (expletive). What’s your dad do for a living?
Me: I don’t really know. He doesn’t live with me anymore; I haven’t seen him much the past couple years.
Officer: Oh, so is that why you’re making (expletive) comments to me? Are you looking for some kind of father figure in your life?
He asked me some questions to identify myself and then sent me off. My father is an aggressive parent, and when he used to get mad at me, I learned to passively absorb his anger and not resist. So when this officer was talking to me, I didn’t resist him verbally or defend myself. I just let him blow off his steam. The comment I had made about his texting while driving had probably come off as disrespectful to him, and he simply lost control when he went off on me and ended up abusing his authority as an adult and his power as an officer.
Neither of us showed the respect the other deserved. I made a “smart comment,” and he made some comments of his own. Our interaction highlighted the typical gap between generations. Adults view kids as disrespectful big shots, which is sometimes true. Kids see adults as hypocrites, who call out kids for texting and driving, but then turn around and do the same thing.
Adults and kids alike sometimes feel they know everything and consequently think their generational counterparts should show them deference. Adults and kids are more similar than most would like to admit: they are both equally prone to mistakes and both deserve equal respect.
And they both forget: perfection is impossible, but forgiveness is endless.
Alex Waheed is a high school student in Oak Park.