Respect has been on my mind a lot. I’ve thought about it as I’ve scrolled through Facebook, I’ve thought about it as I’ve read a whole bunch of political jokes. I’ve thought about it as I’ve listened to some of my kids’ complaints about various school teachers. I’m looking around, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of respect in our culture.
When I was in 3rd or 4th grade I bought one of those Mad Libs books at a book fair at my school. Remember Mad Libs? It had some kind of story with lots of blank spaces. In the blank spaces you filled in whatever it told you, like a noun, or a color, or a famous person. After you had filled in all the blanks, you would read the story and it would sound ridiculous because you had changed all the keywords in the story. I was so excited about my Mad Libs book. I was visiting my Grandma and was doing a Mad Lib with one of my cousins. One of the blank spaces we had to fill in was a famous person. We were young and innocent and the only famous people we knew were from the history books, so we put in Abraham Lincoln. We finished filling in the spaces and then I began reading the story out loud. The story featured Abraham Lincoln (our famous person) and it was ridiculous. Well, my Grandma had been listening to what we were doing and she marched over to me and lit into me. She was mad. She was mad that I was disrespecting Abraham Lincoln, one of our countries fine leaders. She thought it was outrageous that we would use his name so lightly and make fun of him and she put the fear of God in me to ever talk disrespectfully about one of our leaders again. I can’t say that I liked her methods, she scared me to death, but the lesson stuck.
As politics continue to get nastier year by year, I have been confronted with the idea of, “Their actions make them unworthy of respect.” They are liars, cheats, frauds, ridiculous, aren’t doing their job properly, people with an evil agenda. The idea is that these faults make someone unworthy of my respect, which means I can say whatever I want about them, because, after all, they are not worthy of respect.
Ok, let’s look at the definition of respect. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines respect, the verb, as “To consider worthy of high regard: Esteem”. It gives synonyms for Esteem: worth, value. Our Declaration of Independence says that “All men are created equal”. The book of Genesis, from the Bible, says that “God created mankind in his own image”. When we look around at all the people around us, we’ve got to realize two things. First we are all equal, there is no hierarchy where some people are allowed to look down on others. Second, we are created in the image of God. He made us special. He made each one of us. He happens to like what he made.
I can hear all the excuses being thrown out, because I’m thinking them myself. If someone does not act in a respectable manner, then I don’t have to respect them. I’m going to put out the theory that really there are two kinds of respect. The first one is just common decency that every human deserves because they are our equal and because God created them. The second level of respect would fit more with the Merriam Webster definition of respect, the noun, (as opposed to the verb) “expression of high or special regard or deference.” Yes, there are people who rise above and do things that we admire, have character that we admire, have accomplished great feats that we admire. Yes, these people are worthy of respect, in a level that goes above the general respect you get just because you are human. Perhaps a better word would be admiration.
But we have forgotten that general respect that people should get, just because they are human. I have noticed it most with our media. I don’t watch TV, so I’m out of the loop, but several years ago I was sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office and they had the news on a big screen TV. The room was small and there was no avoiding watching what was playing. It was supposedly a news show, but what they showed was a clip of an elderly woman who was pulled over by the police. The woman was clearly confused and started to be very aggressive with the police. The news anchor people showed the clip and then sat there and made fun of the elderly woman. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe that they were sitting there mocking and making fun of this poor elderly woman. What happened to respecting your elders?? Nowadays it’s Memes on Facebook about our President. I’ll go on record and say, I’m not a Trump supporter. I’m not a Clinton supporter either. But these are people! And right now Trump is our President! I’m blown away that people think it’s fine to be extremely disrespectful about him, or on the flip side, extremely disrespectful about the the people who oppose him.
I am not saying that you need to agree with our current administration or with any other political leader. It is not disrespectful to point out things you see as mistakes or are just plain wrong. But it can be done respectfully. Mature adults having a conversation. I don’t think it’s wrong to protest, but it can be done respectfully, sticking to the issues instead of trying to tear down individual people.
Here’s the thing I’ve been trying to drum into my teenagers heads. When you act disrespectfully towards someone, all it’s doing it pointing out a lack of character in yourself. When you are willing to stoop to a level of name-calling and mocking, all you’ve done is made yourself a lesser person.
I’ll end with this. One of the things I love about my husband is that he treats all people equally. I am always made most aware of this when I see him dealing with homeless people. My husband works downtown and his construction sites are close to the homeless shelters. He runs into a lot of homeless people. I’ve seen him. He talks to them, shakes their hand, shares any spare change he has, looks them in the face, wishes them luck. On occasion he has reached out and helped some of them get a job, get help. Here’s the thing, he doesn’t believe that he has some kind of “ministry” to homeless people. They’re just people that he runs into on a regular basis, and he’s just treating them like normal people. Because they are. We all nod our heads and say, yes, it’s good to be kind and respectful to homeless people. Y’all, politicians are people too. We are welcome to dislike their political agendas, but we should not be welcome to malign them, make fun of them, and treat them as lower-level humans. And here’s why. If we want racism to end, if we want violence against women to end, if we want sex trafficking and slavery to end, then we have to get rid of the idea that some people are worthy of respect while others aren’t. We have to throw out the notion that there are different “levels” of people. As long as we feel like certain groups are open game to mockery and belittlement, we are never going to achieve true equality.