Every summer I make my personal suggestion to our younger, summer law student associates that they stop using “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”, etc. In most cases their response is that it is a learned habit showing respect. This is not a surprise. And, BTW, this blog post is solely my own personal view. I speak for no one else.
But, my long-held personal perspective is that “Yes Sir / Ma’am” is appropriate only in situations where one’s role is purposely ranked and subordinate as part of the job. And, the only situation I think that fits this role is the military. I have no opposition to “Yes Sir / Ma’am” in that case.
But, I oppose its use in virtually all other cases. I do not see other relationships as a purposeful subordination, such as, merely for examples, adult-child, teacher-student, lawyer-assistant, boss-employee, office worker-janitorial staff, dinner customer-server, and so forth.
Here is a thought. And, some readers will likely disagree. The idea that “respect” is the basis for “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” is a red-herring. Only those already in a dominant position of power (or at least they think so of themselves) get hung-up on others showing respect. By contrast, my view is that respect means equality. And, under that notion I owe no one a “Yes Sir” and they owe me no “Yes Sir”. We are equals.
Finally, I end this blog with a legal point readers might find interesting. The State of Louisiana has a state law that mandates its schools require the use by students of “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” when any public school student is speaking with any public school system employee while on school property or at a school-sponsored event. Click here for the law.