Of the many virtues that seem to have gone missing lately in the arena of community relationships and national debate, is respect for those from whom we differ or with whom we disagree. The absence of respect is conspicuous.
From a casual derogatory remark from the Socceroo’s coach about women needing to “shut up” in public, to personal vitriol aimed at former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, women are primary targets of disrespect. Worst of all are the revelations about some military males who have been rightly and roundly taken to task by their Commanding Officer for alleged disgusting, degrading and predatory sexual behaviour towards selected female victims.
Respect has also gone missing following racist remarks by a young teenager about Sydney Swans player, Adam Goodes, during a game celebrating Aboriginal players’ contribution to the sport.
From the letter columns of newspapers, it is clear that some people still do not “get it” about the impact of such insults, even when delivered in ignorance. The contradictory responses of Collingwood CEO, Eddie McGuire, in some ways demonstrate the contradictory attitude of Australian society towards racism.
It seems our better selves know what is right and how to behave appropriately, which we do in most circumstances. Then there are those times that can creep up on us, when disrespect, or worse, bubbles to the surface. It pays to acknowledge that like Mr McGuire, we all have the potential for both types of behaviour.
We therefore need to be alert to the clues that our worse side is about to express itself, such as when we start a sentence with “I’m not a racist but…” Sexism and racism are cousins. They identify a person or group according to a basic characteristic such as gender or race, then belittle, or even persecute, others on the basis of who they are. Such sweeping generalisations carry over to other uncivilised attitudes, for example, towards people who are lesbian or gay, and even towards male hairdressers, and men in blue ties!
On the other hand, if we want to know what respect for others looks like, we need go no further than the Gospels. Jesus treated people with the utmost respect who, in his society, were often labeled and discounted as unworthy. Luke’s Gospel is a particularly fertile area of exploration, such as when he accepts the hospitality of the disparaged woman in the home of Simon the Pharisee; hospitality denied to him by his host. Jesus’ respect for women, Gentiles, and other disenfranchised people often had a transformative effect upon them. His teaching also, such as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, has caused countless people to think again about their prejudice.
I think it is true to say that the level of respect we show others is indicative of the level of respect we have for ourselves. Hence the powerful words of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. More of that next time!
Moderator, Rev. Brian Brown