When the Intramuralist began, I remember feeling weary at the way people spoke not only to each other but also about each other. Day one we asserted that “most people don’t know how to respect those with whom they disagree.” That was twelve and a half years ago.
With respect being not only our mantra but also our practice, I am always attracted to those who warn how a lack of respect is damaging our nation. We can’t be any “we the people,” “home of the brave” or even “united” state of America if we can’t learn to respect the different.
Notice we speak not about agreement. We don’t have to agree; in fact, it’s preposterous to think we all would. But we do need to respect a person’s right to think, feel, and believe what they do if we are going to maintain any enduring sense of “we,” “brave” or “united.”
I believe that unity can be found amid disagreement. Unity, however, depends on respect.
Recently, The Christian Science Monitor began what they call “The Respect Project.” The goal is to “bridge the conflicts that divide us.” In race, gender, religion, and education, they offer a frank conversation about how respect is operating in our politics. Note a few of their headlines:
- “Between religious and LGBTQ rights, what does fairness look like?”
- “Why French Jews and Muslims are learning each other’s language”
- “This woman bridges climate change divides, one Maine voter at a time”
- “Asian in America: Reflections on the meaning of being American”
- “‘Blind date’ for political rivals? TV show is breaking down barriers.”
- “Can friendship be bipartisan? Ask the Janets.”
“Respect: Is it the glue a polarized nation needs?”
It’s important to acknowledge the differences between politeness, tolerance and respect. Politeness may gloss over significant difference. Tolerance may mask the depth of individual credence. But to respect means to see another as a human being, endowed by their Creator, of unquestionable dignity and worth. It is to see them no lesser than self. And it is to see them as no lesser or worse even if they have a belief, behavior or opinion that we may consider nothing short of certifiably crazy, criminal, or iniquitous.
Political commentator, Andrew Sullivan — who is included in the initial article in the CS Monitor’s series — says this well. “It’s my profound worry about this, that we don’t see each other as individuals. We see each other as avatars of a race or an identity or as something threatening to us, as opposed to another human being.” We need, as Sullivan continues, to refresh our commitment — “to the bedrock principles of liberal democracies, including an abiding respect for the inherent dignity and absolute worth of every human being.”
Too much of what we are advocating and teaching, friends, starts by pitting people against one another… us vs. them… black vs. white… conservative vs. liberal… etc. vs. etc.
We are toying with a damaging tool: this pitting of one vs. another — a humanly-crafted, binary choice that only one can be good and the other must be bad or at the very least lesser. Such is nothing short of a veiled exercise encouraging deep disrespect… an exercise which is tearing our country in far more than two.
Note the following insight from “The Respect Project”:
“… Amid the nation’s political polarization and widening cultural divides are millions of Americans who have lost sight of each other, caught in reflexive rituals and simplistic clichés that dismiss, demonize, or otherwise delegitimize perceived enemies.
Respect is one vital way we heal and reestablish common civic ideals.
‘… respect helps get at something a little bit richer and deeper,’ says Ms. [Alexandra] Hudson, author of ‘Against Politeness: Why Politeness Failed America and How Civility Can Save It.’ ‘And I say both civility and respect are more of a disposition, a fundamental way of looking at the world and others as human beings first, more like us than not like us. It’s a way of reflecting on what that means for what we owe one another by virtue of our inherent dignity, our irreducible worth as human beings and as fellow members of the human community.’”
Ah… fellow members of one community…
And to see others as more like us than not…
Yes, that’s what we need.