Young People Ask . . .
Mom and Dad Are Illiterate—How Can I Respect Them?
THOMAS EDISON is recognized the world over as the inventor of the electric light bulb. Henry Ford is likewise known worldwide for his introduction of mass-production techniques to manufacturing. But did you know that both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had little formal education?
The apostles Peter and John were pillars of the early Christian congregation. They were bold and eloquent speakers of truth. Yet, they were said to be “men unlettered and ordinary” when it came to secular education.—Acts 4:13.
Yes, throughout history there have been men and women who have accomplished great things in spite of having little formal education. And no reasonable person would hold them in any less esteem on that account. Clearly, then, there is more to human worth and dignity than formal education.
This is not to say that a formal education is unimportant or that illiteracy, the inability to read and write, is not a handicap. In many lands, a person without a secondary school diploma has great difficulty finding employment. One unable to read cannot tap the vast storehouse of knowledge locked up in books and magazines. A person who cannot write may be embarrassed when asked to sign his name or fill out a form.
What, though, if one’s own parents are illiterate? In Africa and other parts of the developing world, it is not uncommon for literate youths to have parents who cannot read or write. And even in industrialized lands, some youths have educational advantages that their parents did not enjoy. At any rate, if this is true in your case, how do you feel about your parents? Are you embarrassed by their lack of education? Or, worse yet, do you sometimes feel that they are ignorant and unworthy of respect?
Why Respect Is Fitting
If such negative feelings afflict you from time to time, it might help you to reflect on the fact that God requires that you respect your parents. Ephesians 6:2, 3 commands: “‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’” One dictionary defines the showing of honor as ‘treating with respect.’ Note, too, that your future life prospects hinge on your showing your parents respect. Disrespect for them amounts to disrespect for God.
After all, you are indebted to your parents for imparting life to you. To the best of their ability, they provide you with food, clothing, and shelter—a difficult task in many developing lands—and no doubt will continue doing so for years to come. No price tag could possibly be put on the value of your parents’ time, tender care, and loving direction. Should they be belittled because they lack certain educational advantages? Literate or illiterate, they are your parents.
Remember, too, that it is your parents who have sponsored whatever formal education you have had, often at great sacrifice to themselves. Should that not invoke your appreciation?
The Education Parents Have
Really, your parents are probably more educated than you are. Formal schooling does provide a broad foundation on which a person can build throughout his life. But it does not teach you all you need to know in life.
A common saying in Ghana is: “An adult was once a child, but a child has never been an adult.” Your parents have something that you can’t get out of a book: experience in living. Have you ever held a job, paid bills, cared for small children, or managed a household? Your parents have already accumulated years of experience in these matters.
The Bible further shows at Hebrews 5:14 that one’s perceptive powers are “trained to distinguish both right and wrong,” not simply through reading and studying, but “through use”! Your parents are thus in a position to give you moral guidance, to instill values in you. Particularly is this so if your parents are God-fearing.
Interestingly, the advantage your parents have over you in experience does not diminish even when you become old enough to manage a household yourself! Proverbs 23:22 says: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” This advice was directed, not to children, but to adults with aging parents. Yes, even when one is an adult, it is wise to listen to one’s parents, respecting the wisdom they have gained through experience. Parents may be illiterate, but that does not mean that their counsel lacks value.
Illiterate but Successful
The real-life experiences of youths raised by illiterate parents well illustrate the truth of the foregoing. Kwabena, a Ghanaian youth, says of his mother who is illiterate: “She was a firm disciplinarian. I have grown to love her more, out of appreciation for the values she instilled in me for my good. My older sisters are successful wives, and my mother can take a significant part of the credit for this.”
Reginald, on the other hand, was raised by his grandfather who was also illiterate. Recalls Reginald: “His directions were mature and consistent, contributing to my being able to shoulder serious responsibilities very early in life.”
Kwasi is another Ghanaian youth whose mother never had the benefit of a formal education. Did this put her at a severe disadvantage with her son? No. Recalls Kwasi: “I have always admired my mother for her mental prowess. She was a trader, and during my early years at secondary school, anytime she wanted some calculations done, I had to resort to pen and paper. She used mental arithmetic. Very often she was the one who got the correct answers first!”
Be a Help to Your Parents!
True, literacy does afford you certain advantages. But this is no reason to treat your parents condescendingly. As a youth, Jesus Christ had a singular advantage over his parents. He was perfect. Yet, the Bible record shows that “he continued subject to them.”—Luke 2:51.
In view of this, have you given thought to how you could use your skills to the advantage of your parents? They may, for example, appreciate your reading to them their mail, the newspaper, the Bible, and Bible-based publications. Or they may benefit by your writing letters or filling out forms on their behalf.
Remember, when Jehovah God helps his people, “he gives generously to all and without reproaching.” (James 1:5) In other words, he never makes us feel stupid for having needed his help. So deal with your parents in a modest, gracious way, and they will be more likely to accept your help.
Since the skills of reading and writing are so useful in the Christian congregation, you might even give your parents modest encouragement to take advantage of various literacy programs that might be available. Interestingly, in many lands where illiteracy prevails, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is often used as a center of learning. Perhaps a kind word of encouragement from you would be all they need to be motivated to take advantage of the educational program offered there.
In some African lands, children wait till the death of their parents and pay them the “last respects” by providing an expensive coffin for their burial. How much better it is to show your parents deep respect now while they are alive! Never be embarrassed that they were deprived of certain opportunities when they were young. They have qualities that more than make up for their lack of secular education. Always show respect for them, both in word and in deed. Be “ready to obey,” even when you disagree with them. (James 3:17) Treasure the warmth, love, and wisdom that your parents have, qualities that mean far more than the ability to read and write.
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Parents can be rich sources of advice even when they lack the skills of literacy