The idea of respect seems to be reoccuring in my life in several different areas. Does that happen to you? You hear a word, or an idea, or a phrase or a song, and then all of the sudden it's everywhere? That's how it's been with the idea of respect for me this past few weeks. Respect for children, respect for my husband, respect for other people's opinions, respect being talked about at church in the context of marriage, respect for tradition. But how do we apply this concept of respect? Do we think of respecting our children the same way as our friends or the cashier at the grocery store? Are there different levels of respect depending on the relationship we have with the person or people in question?
Last week two bloggers resigned from John Edwards' campaign after a firestorm of protest over some things they had previously written on their private blogs. When Julie posted about this on her blog on Feb 21, it percipitated a good disscussion. (http://julieunplugged.blogspot.com) The discussion highlighted for me some fundamental differences in how people view the idea of respect when it comes to faceless groups as opposed to a "real" person. It was enlightening and helpful and prompted continued thought on my part. The gist (for me) was that when mrginalized and silenced, people may strike back at their perceived opppressors with anger, vulgarity, and general disrespect. That disrespect is targeted at a group or ideology in general and should not necessarily be personalized by anyone who happens to line up with said ideology. In other words, it is possible to be angry with, and abusive to, a group of people without carrying those feeling over to any particular individual within the group. Shocking language is arguably an understandable and effective way of getting heard, of making people sit up and take notice.
My "gut" feelings are that respect is fundamental, and that lowering the level of discourse to the level of vulgarity and abuse is never productive. Or even if it proves productive, it has consequences such as continued polarization that aren't worth the momentary gain, or momentary feeling of relief! For my purposes in the post, I'm not trying to argue whether or not the two bloggers should have been censored for their private views. This post is me processing in writing about how I see respect in general.
When it comes to respect, I see a sort of concentric circle, with me and my husband in the middle, and then moving out like layers in an onion (or ogre) to the following: children, family, friends, strangers you meet during the course of a day, anonymous strangers, and "enemies." While we too often disrespect those closest to us, our spouses, children and family, we at least give lip service to the idea that you should treat people with dignity. We perhaps are better at respecting our friends who can decide not to have anything to do with us if we treat them shabbily. The concept starts to unravel when it comes to strangers we meet physically in the course of the day, or talk to on the phone. As the physical contact gets more remote, the concept of rudeness is more acceptable. We can cuss out the person in the car that just cut us off, or we can berate the person on the other end of the line when our insurance has screwed up our coverage again. Let the person become more anonymous, more faceless, and the idea of rudeness is excused because it is supposidly no longer directed at an individual, but a group or ideology...in short, it is now directed at "our enemies." With the glut of movies and TV shows glorifying vengence and making sure the bad guys "get theirs," it's understandable that payback has become glorified and even dignified in our society. The bastards who done you wrong don't deserve any respect. In fact, isn't it a good thing to fight back at those who are angry and abusive themselves?
I don't want to give a Bible study here, but I am convinced that Christ teaches a radically different way of reacting to those who hate and persecute us, as well as how to treat "the least of these." The strangers we come across, the cashiers, the mailman, the bank teller, are all deserving of a smile and patience as they go about their jobs. The faceless masses, who include the poor and disadvantaged, are deserving of special respect and care and we can show that through donations of our time and money, and through advocacy of their cause. But the faceless masses also include the guy in the car who is acting like a jerk, or the writer of that newspaper column who just doesn't have a clue. As a parent, my attitude expressed in front of my children influence how they view other people, who is worth of respect and who isn't, and from me they get the idea of "victimization" or forgiveness.
The hardest group of all to deal with are the "enemies." These are the people who have marginalized you, who are fighting to unravel what you hold dear or advocate what you abhor. How are we to react to them? Even if we are truly victims, how are we called to respond? "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Resorting to vulgarity and shock-value isn't an option, in my opinion.
My friend (ampersand) is right. I am called not to take the insults personally. In fact, as a Christian I should be very, very difficult to offend. On the other hand, I am convinced that resorting to abuse is never an effective way to change things for the better.