HELEN BURTON: Respect is a basic principle of our society

Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001
Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001

Last week I attended some training for Parish councillors on the Code of Conduct. It was run by Wealden District Council and reminded us all about the ‘seven principles of public life’.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about one of them in particular, and that is to show respect for others at all times. I like to think I do that anyway in all aspects of my life, with the possible exception of dealing with a dangerous driver on the road during which times, in the heat of the moment, all bets are off. Respect is such a basic principle of our society that it always amazes me how many people seem to forget it. Good people I’m sure, and people who should know better.

This week I have shared on Facebook a wonderful video about disability not always being visible. It shows a mum dealing with a child who is knocking things off supermarket shelves. She cradles him in her arms on the ground to calm him down, and as she does so, her eyes meet the disapproving glances of strangers who are no doubt thinking what a ‘naughty’ child he is. There are many invisible conditions that can lead children (or adults) to behave in ways you may not expect. Don’t assume that it’s bad parenting or a naughty child in front of you. The one thing you know for sure is that there is a very stressed out parent dealing with a difficult situation. Instead of judging, think about what you can do to help. Sometimes a kind glance, a sympathetic smile or an offer of help will mean the world. Lots of children and adults find it difficult to cope in public life, so please make respect your bottom line and try to make life easier for those around you who may be struggling.

Being respectful and non-judgemental is something we should all aim for at all times. My Dad loves to tell the story about walking our dog when we were kids only to be set upon by an elderly lady. We had a Labrador-whippet cross, and the stranger thought my Dad had been underfeeding his Labrador so she beat him with her walking stick until he made his escape! I often have to deal with disapproving strangers, not least because of this column, but also because my daughter is autistic and has ADHD. The kindness of strangers allows me to take her with me wherever I go. I still do it with my heart in my throat sometimes, every outing has the potential for disaster, but I won’t let it hold us back as I want her to lead a full and happy life. Most people are very understanding during difficult times, but to the lady at the swimming pool who tutted at my daughter and shook her head this week, because she was just a little too loud and swam just a little too close to you, perhaps it’s your own behaviour you should be thinking about.