What is it to respect someone? Does it mean that you admire them? Or that you acknowledge their right to make choices? Can you respect someone whose choices you don't admire? What is it to respect someone as a human being if you don't like them? We're told to respect our elders. Why? Because they're older than us? What does that mean? We demand respect from our children. Why? Because we want them to know we're in charge? Or because we want them not to question our right to parent?
I think there's a lot of confusion around the idea of respect. Often when we say we respect someone, it means we admire them. But we also want to be respected as people, and that doesn't always mean being admired. I'd like to offer that respect is acknowledging that as a human being everyone has a right to see things the way they do, to have their own perspective, apart from what your opinion is about what that perspective is. And I think that this is the beginning of dialogue.
I've seen a bit of prejudice in my life. I grew up in South Africa during apartheid. I lived in Uganda during Idi Amin's time. I've lived in the Middle East and experienced the Arab-Israeli conflict firsthand. I have a close attachment to the South and see prejudice there and prejudice in the North - often, ironically, towards the South itself. I've been the object of prejudice on many fronts, as a white person, as an American, as a Christian, as a Jew, and as a lesbian. People are people, and we judge those who are different from us. Respect takes the judgment out of the equation. Let me explain.
When we respect someone, we are willing to walk a few steps in their shoes. We are willing to stand outside our little box and look at what their box might be. We are all raised with judgment. We are all raised with prejudices. We are all raised with the idea that our way of looking at things is somehow - maybe just a little bit, but somehow, better than others' ways of looking at things. If you disagree, I challenge you to think more about it. How do you feel about people of the opposite political party? About people of different religious persuasions (what you might call "fanatics")? How do you feel about racists? How do you feel about terrorists?
When we are willing to walk a few steps in someone else's shoes, we open our minds to understanding that perhaps their perspective, no matter how limited we see it, is a result of circumstance and experience, and that we, given the same circumstances and experience, might actually see things the way they do. "There for the grace of God go I."
Acknowledging someone's differences doesn't mean you understand them. And it doesn't mean you like them. But it does open the way for acceptance. You can accept the person without having to understand fully how they feel. You can accept that their perspective is a result of their circumstances, and that opens you up to being able to speak from a place of equality and not judgment, of compassion, not prejudice.
No-one likes to be judged. Being judged puts people immediately on the defensive. When we are unwilling to accept someone because of their choices, we are judging them. And where there is judgment, there is no room for dialogue. Where there is judgment, there is anger, and hatred, and pain. Nelson Mandela knew this. Martin Luther King knew it. Gandhi knew it. Jesus knew it.
Respect - or the lack thereof - impacts every level of our lives, from our business to our personal relationships to our society at large. We as Americans like to think we're out to save the world. Why? Do we respect other nations? Do we respect their history? Do we try to walk a few steps in their shoes and dialogue? Do we try to see the world the way they do? And to those of us who are critical of the attitude of "we're better than them," do we respect those making the decisions? Or are we just sitting in judgment?
I would like to invite you today to join me in looking at how we respect those whose choices we abhor. What are we doing to save the world? Whom are we judging, and why are we judging them? And what are we doing to change things? Where do we demand respect, and where are we giving it? Where it's comfortable, or where it stretches us? Today, I am committing to looking at my own life and the role judgment and respect play in it. I invite you to join me. We can change the world, and it begins with us, with our home, with our family, with our business, with our friends, and, yes, with our enemies. How you do anything is how you do everything - how can we expect others to be willing to change if we ourselves are not?