The Ma’am/Sir Dilemma

I work for a company that encourages its employees to treat one other as equals. For example, we call our CEO by his first name, as well as the other executives. Perhaps it’s an effect of being handled by the British for a long time, which I think is a good thing.

One of the most important lessons imparted to me by my boss was this: Treat clients as friends, do not call them Ma’am or Sir, especially those who are difficult to deal with. Once you call them Ma’am or Sir, you are giving them the right to place themselves above you. It’s like you are submitting yourself to that person, which is not a good thing because you are there not as a servant.

My only problem is this: Being a Filipina, I was raised with the idea that the elders should be respected. As early as possible, Filipino kids are taught to use po or opo when conversing with someone that is older. Whenever I speak to someone older for the first time, I automatically call that person Ma’am or Sir. I automatically use po or opo.

So what to do now? Should I throw my values away in order to save myself from being ordered around by strangers? It just doesn’t feel right.

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