Saturday, August 15, 2015

Respect—given or earned? And why I'm tempted to turn off commenting on my blogs

Some say "Respect everyone," some say "Respect must be earned." I'm with St. Peter and Malcolm X—respect everyone. I don't always succeed because I have a snarky sense of humor and a low tolerance for fools, but I keep trying to suppress the first and raise the second.

People who respect themselves find it easy to respect others. We know we're all fallible and most of us are trying to do good, no matter how foolish the way we've chosen to try.

The people who insist respect must be earned don't see the fine line between "earning respect" and "buying respect", which is why I feel a little sorry for rich people—they can never know if their respect is earned or bought. The idea that respect must be earned is not respectful; it assumes encounters with others do not begin with respect

A few simple truths that the "respect must be earned" camp doesn't understand:

1. Disagreement is not disrespect. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."

2. Protest is not disrespect. Malcolm X said, "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." That did not stop him from protesting bad laws, and it applies to the next point:

3. Self-defense is not disrespect, nor does it justify disrespect. Malcolm would have known that Muhammad said, "Do not speak ill of the dead." Which applies to the next point:

4. Telling the truth (which includes telling the truth about the dead) is not disrespect.

So, what does respect entail?

1. Trying to understand the other person's point of view. You do not have to agree with it.

2. Trying to represent the other person's point of view accurately. You may point out aspects of their belief that they do not see, but you may not claim they said things they did not, and you may not characterize their views wilfully.

3. Trying to use the names people use for themselves. Mahayana Buddhists disrespect Theravada Buddhists when they call them Hinayana Buddhists; Muslims disrespect the people of the book and others when they call them kafir, Christians disrespect everyone they call heretics and sinners, Jews disrespect non-Jews when they call them goys....

4. Trying to find precise names for people who do not use a name for themselves or who use names that are misleading. The Nation of Islam is not Muslim, National Socialists are not socialist, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is not democratic. When Jesus spoke of hypocrites, he was being precise, not insulting, just as a psychiatrist would not be insulting when labelling mental illnesses. When Malcolm X spoke of Uncle Toms, he was using a common term for bourgeois black people whose politics did not help the black working class, but he did not mean it as an insult—after he left NOI, he said, "My dearest friends have come to include all kinds — some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists — some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!" (It's likely one of those Uncle Toms was Alex Haley, the Republican who co-wrote and edited The Autobiography of Malcolm X.)

This post was prompted by a couple of recent discussions in which people decided I was insulting them when I failed to be converted by them. I'm tempted to turn off comments on my blog, but for now, I'll just engage less with people who're committed to ideologies that serve the rich.

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