CULTURE AND NORMS may have a common denominator because they are words that speak to people’s behaviors and conduct. Culture speaks of customs, beliefs and ways of life of a people. It makes reference to art, music, literature, social organization etc. Norms mean a situation or pattern of behavior that is usual or expected. It can be seen as a standard of behavior that are typical of, or accepted in a group or society.

Much of the cultures and norms that we practice today are a carry-over from the times when we lived in villages and headed by our traditional chiefs. To some extent, things now have changed. What were norms then cannot be so today. For example, dowry or lobola in the past was paid in the form of cattle or farm work, but this is not the case today. Ancestral worship, common in the past, has slowly diminished as more and more Zambians embrace Christianity. Also of note is that many women now are getting married at an old age, contrary to what was the norm in the past.

When we talk about culture and norms, the subject of respect would most likely want to be addressed. What then is respect? Respect has for its synonyms words like esteem, reverence and veneration. The Oxford Advanced learner dictionary says respect is ’… polite behavior towards or care for someone you think is important…’ This also may means a feeling of admiration of somebody because of their good qualities or achievements. So we can say that respect is wrapped in cultural norms and peoples’ traditions.

It has been politically accepted that there’s no ‘bad or good’ culture, but rather that culture just differs from one setting to the other. One group of people may buried their dead with solemnity and fear, while another group see death as a passageway to join the ancestors in another world. However, we must hasten to say that there are some aspects of traditions in some cultures that may be out of tune with time and may pose a danger to others. Cleansing rites that demand sexual intercourse of a relative of the deceased, is one example of a bad tradition, because it can have health risks. Female genital mutilation, common is some African countries is another bad tradition that dehumanizes girls and women. That notwithstanding, culture and norms play an important role when it comes to showing respect to other people, especially elders.

In the Zambian culture, as is the case with other African societies, children are expected to show reverence for adults. There are many ways in which children show respect to their seniors. Unlike in English where a youngster can call me ‘Chilufya,’ Ba Chilufya is more desirable and shows respect to someone older than you. Likewise, Nyambe is venerated as Bo Nyambe in Lozi. In many languages in Zambia, an adult name is prefixed with Ba or Bo, as in the names of the two cases above. Kneeling when greeting an adult or giving them a cup of water is a norm Zambians are taught from an early age. Standing and talking to a seated adult shows lack of respect and is frowned upon in many cultures. Which is why we say, ’What a youngster sees while standing on his feet, an old man sees while seated.’ Remember this.

During meal times adults are expected to wash their hands first and be the first to select from the dishes. However, this must not be taken that Zambian adults are like hungry lions who want to feed first and leave children famished. Far from the truth. Any responsible parent knows that children need as much food as any adults. Even in a bus or any public place, a young person is expected to give way to senior citizens to be served first.
All these, and many more, are a show of respect to elders.

The limits of respect

I feel that it’s important to say that respect should have a limit. While children are expected to honor adults, unbridled reverence is not very good. I can give an example. In many cultures looking an adult in the eyes is misconstrued as challenging them and thus disrespectful. Again, many children in our cultures are never taught how to say ‘No’ to an adult. Because of this, children could be abused by some unprincipled adults who lack self-control. Some people even misquote proverbs and traditional sayings to manipulate young ones. It’s therefore incumbent upon us adults not to demand too much reverence and respect from children. Parents also need to teach children to be self-assured and know when adults are trying to manipulate them. Your views are welcome on the subject of culture, norms and respect in our society today.

For comments:
Whatsapp: +260 97 2 777 285