and moral values
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
You feel the sting, the hurt, whenever others
insult or trivialize you. How should you react when people are rude
or disrespectful? Should you get angry and react in kind, or should
you try to rationalize and rise above the insult? Are you being
too sensitive or expecting too much from people?
If you are struggling with the problem of a
lack of civility and respect in human interactions, you are not
we can learn something from Rodney
Dangerfield, a stand-up comedian who passed away just a few
weeks ago. He built a successful career around the self-deprecating
one-liner: "I don't get no respect." How it touches a responsive
chord across generations!
In explaining the secret of his success, Rodney
once said: "I'm very lucky. Years ago they had images, like W.C.
Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho. But today, I think I'm the
only one around with an image. And that image is something everyone
identified with. They all feel life treated 'em wrong and they got
no respect." (Time Out New York, February 6, 1997).
No matter how successful and recognized, people
tend to feel that they don't receive the respect they deserve. For
example, each year, when Nobel prizes are announced, I am sure that
there are hundreds of equally accomplished individuals who feel
that they have been overlooked or slighted. The same applies to
the awarding of Oscars.
Deep down, we all crave respect, as if our self-esteem
and self-identity depend on it. It is interesting to note that while
we all expect others to respect us, we somehow feel justified for
not respecting others. There are always one hundred reasons for
not respecting someone: "That guy is simply an idiot!" or "I can't
believe that he is so rude!"
Of course, there is the good old negative stereotyping.
By denigrating a particular group, whether they are Jews or Arabs,
gays or straights, liberals or conservatives, people feel it is
easy to denigrate individuals on the basis of group membership.
To complicate the issue, respect and tolerance
have become moral absolutes for the social engineers. In their zeal
to promote the rights of the minorities and under-privileged, they
would decry anyone who dares to disagree with their social agenda,
such as abortion rights and gay marriage. All kinds of derogative
terms, such as "bigots" and "idiots" have been used to characterize
those who hold conservative religious, moral values.
Similarly, those who passionately advocate "sanctity
of life" and "traditional marriage" as part of their fundamental
moral values feel equally strong about those who disagree with them
on these issues. They depict proponents of progressive, liberal
views as "godless" or "immoral". They too want to impose their conservative
moral absolutes on others through political means.
In the fierce cultural civil war throughout
the recent Presidential election in America, respect was the first
casualty. The shouting matches in some TV talk-shows, such as Cross-fire
further reinforce the notion that "politeness" is for "girly men"
and there is no room for "respect" in the gladiatorial blood sport
Restoring the virtue of respect
It is understandable that we have difficulty
tolerating and respecting those who violate our deepest moral convictions.
It is hard not to react emotionally and viscerally when others try
to destroy what we hold dearer than our own lives. To respect the
offenders is tantamount to betrayal of our authentic self.
But how do we hold a society together with diverse
cultures and moral convictions? Can civilization survive, if we
do away with moral absolutes? Is it possible to discover common
ground and shared moral absolutes? How can we make "respect" one
of those shared universal virtues without turning it into a coercive,
political tool? These are weighty and complex questions for us to
Perhaps, the first step towards resolving the
problem of cultural warfare is to find some ways of showing respect
to those who honestly disagree with us on religious and moral issues.
I don't mean superficiality or duplicity in our display of respect.
I believe that we can have honest dialogue and debates in the market
place of ideas, without the poison of political passion. We can
even discover an attitude of respect that is rooted in our common