In today’s world, too often, respect becomes confused with envy, with empathy and with profile. Yet, respect (feelings and expressions of worth for oneself and others) is fundamental to the nurture and fulfilment of human existence and doesn’t evolve from societies built on borders, barriers and boundaries. It can’t be legislated nor regulated, can’t be taught but it can be learned and can begin with any willing individual. It requires no particular status nor income levels. It is also the easiest thing to transfer from one individual to another. Respect will also bring the greatest rewards both individually and collectively.
Every day in the news, people are inundated with coverage of new tragedies – a myriad of stories about damaged wasted and ended lives. Communities are no longer considered safe, homes no longer secure and our “way of life” is jeopardized because of the “evil” ones in our midst. The general media led response indicates fear, loathing and impatience, inciting reactionary groups to demand more laws, stronger policing and more stringent regulation. They demand, on behalf of all citizens, stronger punishments as deterrents for those who have not even yet engaged in anti-social crimes. There is even the demand for zero tolerance, and it is becoming too easy to agreeably anticipate the curtailment of all freedoms as a last hope of protecting ourselves.
Witness areas such as California, where communities have built walls and created private security forces. Recall in Canada when government panicked and implemented the War Measures Act suspending civil liberties for all. Those people who were incarcerated appreciate better than anyone what such draconian measures imply. Ironically, when totalitarian regimes impose the same rules on their citizens there is a cry of outrage by the “democratic” countries such as ours and often troops sent to defend the oppressed. What isn’t realized by the citizens of these same democracies, is that each time the powers of their legislation are expanded, police forces increased and regulations made more restrictive, their society moves closer and closer to similar repressions.
It is my contention, that many current societal ills can be traced to the “sixties”. Several aspects of societal change converged – rapidly expansionary economies became less dependent on the resources of the developed world; demographic shifts were created with the burgeoning of the baby boom generation; and advancing education and technology opened our society to global information, new philosophies and immigration. The result was a weakening of respect for any of the moral values that had carried developed societies to their advanced states and had, at least, stabilized developing countries.
Since that era rapid expansion of technology, breakdown of national borders and an overwhelming production of illusionary images from new visual medias have become commonplace. Visual media, in particular, has become the vital sources of information flow and has exacerbated the weakening and appreciation of traditional values. The demand for the “good life” with all of its advertised `accessories’ has mushroomed. People in developed and latterly developing countries gradually got into the rush to attain more, to achieve more and to collect all those things that would make life worthwhile (using a consumer definition!).
Two incomes per family became mandatory, youth employment compulsory and higher wages the cry. Until recently, where even two salaries do not suffice, student employment is insufficient to providing adequate lifestyle desires and no wages limits satisfactory. This is compounded by a growing disparity in the incomes of those who are more able to influence the system and those who are not. Stress is compounding, tension growing and value of life and living lost.
The very young are pressured to choose a `good’ career, but long term careers are proving redundant. Recent graduates are encouraged to prepare good retirement plans and make large contributions to private savings in order to achieve a level of reserves upon retirement that previous generations couldn’t contemplate (Financial advisors now recommend that retirement savings in excess of a million dollars are required, in order to, sustain a reasonable life style). The middle aged are being asked to accept redundancy because they can’t be trained quickly enough to master the changing demands of new high tech systems. In the face of this destructive social tangle, youth, with their high tech educations and sophisticated intellectual progress have to attempt to fit in, nurture and sustain the society – but! without the benefit being afforded them of any social development much less spiritual awareness or frameworks. Marginalization is the result, opting out the alternative and rights considered sacrosanct (but to what purpose!).
Institutions, staffed with employees educated during the earlier generational shift, are intransigent. Although not willing to accept responsibility they cling to the security and incomes that maintain their inflated lifestyles. The institutional base has neither the capacity or awareness, much less the willingness to act as intermediaries in addressing the social issues impacting people. The moral ground of churches was long ago abrogated to educators and subsequently to government with current attempts to foist onto business the responsibility to fill this widely recognized void.
Social systems have been set up that encourage disrespect and diminish the very recipients that they are supposed to assist. Laws are created to punish those that abuse and more and more people are hired to police the abusers, thereby, depleting the very resources that we earmarked for those in need. At the same time the people at the upper echelon of both public and private sectors consider that they are entitled to more because they are working to provide the incomes of those that are unwilling or unable.
The search for resolution falls into a vacuum that is being rapidly filled by the extremists who see opportunity to gain control – historically this happens in periods of significant transitions. The price to society will be heavy if moderate forces remain withdrawn and insular. It will not only be the injured, abused and murdered that will suffer but all those young people without adequate nurturing to value life and living.
For all these tolls of doom, however, a successful resolution is achievable – it begins and ends with “respect”. The struggle and challenge of all those who recognize the scope of the dilemma remains – who will begin the process to create a system built on respect? My contention, is that, it must begin with each and every individual, who, must endeavour to show respect for all those who come into their presence. Although, this will be at times be difficult for everyone is influenced by personal and traditional biases that have been part of their upbringing. But, respect for oneself, for other individuals and for all living things is quite achievable and requires little fiscal resources. The results lead to experiences of reciprocal respect by many who become acquaintances and others who build friendships.
There are other actions that could be catalysts for a new society built on consideration. Politicians and bureaucrats could set such examples if they didn’t partake of double and triple dipping while enjoying lucrative pensions. Government, churches and educational institutions could provide guidance and moral support to redundant fisheries workers in addressing the most traumatic experiences of their lives instead of offering only special sustenance income. Recognition of their talents and skills would create esteem. These same institutions could assist single young mothers, attain greater aspirations and better lifestyles or, at least, broader understanding of the disparate nature of the path they are choosing instead, they provide minimal incomes. Such support would resolve immediate and future social ills. The provision of transitional assistance for early retirees (often younger than fifty years of age) would forestall another burgeoning societal issue. Politically addressing the issue of young women and men, who even with good educations, have to settle for menial careers would encourage new hope and generate confidence.
Such individual and societal action would provide learning, support and encouragement to people of all ages in enduring and overcoming many of life’s tribulations, traumas and challenges. Personal growth and advancement beyond any expectations could be ensured. The reduction of the barriers and boundaries to personal fulfilment could be afforded and many would experience a side of life from which most keep remote. The resultant personal and spiritual sensations will have been previously mind experiences only, attained through reading the thoughts of others.
Mutual respect will provide a new appreciation of a wealth of untold proportions and security; it is the wealth of wisdom, of friendships and moral supporters. The price will only entail a willingness to show respect for oneself and others. This respect involves at times providing support and encouragement. It also necessitates, allowing others their anguish and pain with its subsequent learning, but, always with the full understanding that help is available if required.
These are simple principles long supported in religious doctrine, in native folklore and through the course human history. These kind of endeavours, no doubt, encourage suggestions that such idealism and has no place in this pragmatic and advanced world. But, as history demonstrates, the concept usually begins with individuals and multiplies through communities to become inherent in societies. Mutual respect and its inherent support becomes buried when institutions, that people create to perfect the process, lose their collective regard for the people they serve. It is lost in community and society, when conversely, people lose appreciation for the institutions they created. A movement is then required to redress the inequities and regain respect.
Such a movement will only happen with a collective will and a genuine desire by those that believe and care. The results will become infectious and spread, as examples are set and respect and reciprocation shared. The effort requires neither money or time only open honest communication – a commodity that with our technology is touted as our greatest asset. The next step is individual and it requires an adventuresome nature to dare to show someone respect and then await the reaction. The response just might prove to be the greatest gift for all.