Respect: part 2
A young woman, having fallen in love, sought the advice of an older friend about whether or not she should accept her lover’s proposal of marriage. Her doubts were due to the fact that she had only known her new love for four months.
“Here is what I suggest you do”, said the wise friend. “Watch carefully how he relates to his brother and sister. See how he treats the waitress who makes a mistake with the order. Listen to how he speaks to his mother. Note how he treats the dog and the cat. You can be sure that the level of respect he has for others is the same as he will have for you when the ‘in love’ phase is over.”
In my last column I lamented the current public discourse of disrespect for one another. This is often manifested as racism, sexism and other patterns of behaviour that define others in terms of innate characteristics, and belittles them, or worse, on the basis of those characteristics. I referred to the way in which Jesus showed deep respect in his day-to-day encounters with people, especially those at the margins. I then suggested that the way we respect others is indicative of our self-respect.
In a story called The Rabbi’s Gift, the rabbi tells the abbott that one of the six monks in his monastery is the Messiah. When the monks are told this, they all begin to value one another’s qualities more, and treat one another with increased respect. Also, on the off-chance that the Messiah is themselves, they start respecting themselves much more. The aura of respect that develops at the monastery draws many to their community, and some take holy orders, thus restoring vitality to the declining order.
I invite reflection on how we ourselves might build the vitality of our community of faith by developing our respect for one another. I was very proud of the way that the members of the recent Synod engaged with one another and the process, enabling us to reach consensus on a variety of complex and contentious issues. The Safe Place statement within which we relate to one another when we gather inspires us to respect all present.
Developing respect can start with avoiding the pigeonholing of one another into categories that form the basis of our disrespect. While nobody is immune from the blights of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and the like, in our Church a particular trap might be to belittle one another on the basis of our different theological positions.
Jesus confronted his followers about their petty arguments as to which of them was the greatest or who deserved to sit at his left and his right in the kingdom. In order to encourage respect for the littlest and the least he placed a child in their midst.
We set a new and higher standard for our community discourse when we follow Jesus’ example and show respect for one another that is absent in the popular culture.