Respect and the World Today: What Should It Mean?

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Every morning, as I commute in from the West Side of the Salt Lake valley to the East side, I listen to the local public radio station, KUER. I listen to KUER because I find it the least biased news radio that I can find (notice, I didn't say unbiased. There is no such thing as an unbiased person, or message). And every morning I am agog at the political spectrum's reaction to any little news from either side of the divide. If it isn't a Democratic leader directly insulting foreign leaders (i.e., Prime Minster of Iraq), it's a Republican leader attacking the current Democratic leadership for their distain towards the Republican minority.

Then, if politics isn't enough to make you sick in the morning, driving to work becomes a nightmare. There is only one feasible East-West corridor in the Salt Lake valley to get to Salt Lake City proper: SR 201. That means it's backed up considerably, and people are constantly trying to cut each other off to shave a couple of seconds off of their commute. Are these people only from Utah? Good Heavens no! I've been cut off by people from California, Alaska, Nevada, and one vehicle from Georgia. They all felt that their needs were greater than mine, and therefore felt it necessary to run me off the road (once quite literally).

Where has all the respect gone in today's world? Or has there ever been any respect, and I'm searching for the historian's rose-colored glasses? People keep talking about drivers getting more hostile, politics becoming more partisan, and people in general becoming more about themselves than about others. I would like to explore that concept for a moment, if you will allow me to digress.

Respect, as outlined in Wikipedia is an attitude that results from the interaction of other people. Giving respect means that a set of socially accepted behaviors are exibited in order to better the relationship. The key is in the relationship, and this will be outlined later in the discussion.

The Evidence
So, having esablished what respect is, let's look at the experiences that I have already outlined, beginning with Politics. Political posturing has been the hallmark of the political process since people started to rule each other. Any time you have a group of people together, they all try to position themselves into power at the expense of the others. It's the oldest strategy in the book, and unfortunately it is still successful. In fact, Roman politics is a prime example. Partisan politics was the hallmark of the Roman world, and continued to become more divided until murders and beatings became common place in the name of "the State". But yet, people supported it. Why? Why would anyone support violence between political factions?

Before we answer that question, let's look at the drive to work. People cut each other off all the time, and it's becoming more common. In fact, a recent case caused an acid spill in Utah, closing a busy part of the freeway for hours during the rush. And if that wasn't bad enough, 3 additional drivers were then charged for running the blockade while the Hazardous Materials team was cleaning up the acid. Why would they do that? What were they thinking? I think there is a pattern emerging here...

I have two additional examples that I think will help us clarify what has been happening. One is a post made on Slashdot. I would give you the URL to the post, but pretty much all posts on Slashdot have become this negative. The comment degraded the Government for wanting to assist students that were victims of cyber-bullying. How could anyone in their right mind question the motives of someone trying to protect children from a very invasive and damaging practice? It's like asking why a teacher pulled a bully off of another kid with a bloody nose. And yet, the question was posed, the critics were unleashed.

And finally, there is Yes, I admit it, I like Harry Potter books. Not as much as I enjoy a good book from Plutarch or Livy, or even the Lord of the Rings, but it's a great story. That being said, there are a lot of people that don't like it, as it refers to children learning witchcraft, and therefore they are trying to do what they can to stop it. Recently Mugglenet posted a news article on Laura Mallory, a concerned religious mother that is trying to get Harry Potter books banned from the local schools. Here is the post:

Laura Mallory to appeal yet again
Laura Mallory, the mother who has been crusading since August 2005 to remove the Potter books from the County's school libraries, is set to appeal to the County's Superior Court the decision Georgia state made in December to keep the books on shelves.
Mallory said, "We will take a stand for truth, and pray God will touch the hearts of this generation." For the past year and a half, she has vehemently preached that the books indoctrinate children in witchcraft. She hasn't, however, actually read the books.
Mallory says she is poised to take legal action and has apparently received "significant donations" from "supporters" in aid of this.
Emerson's Comment: Ever seen a fly crash itself repeatedly into a transparent pane of glass, never quite getting the hint? Yeah. (Emphasis mine)

For those of you who are not familiar with Emerson, he is the creator of the website, and just started college not too long ago. He is famous for calling those "shippers" who want to see a Harry/Harmione relationship "deleusional". Do you think he would say this to these people square in the face? Does it reflect any kind of respect for their beliefs? Keep in mind that this is all over an fictional character in a fictional world. Is this type of action a result of respect?

The Review
Okay, we have the evidence, so what does it say? Well, let's go over the requirements for respect. First, there needs to be a social interaction. This means there needs to be a social basis for respect to exist. Secondly, the one giving respect can decide what those social boundaries are. So let's look at each of the pieces of evidence again:

1. Political Partisanship: Political candidates are appealing to their parties, and to their parties only. They don't care to have a social interaction with those of the other party, and therefore don't feel the need for giving respect. Hence, you have a situation where insults, digs, and posturing becomes the normal behavior within the political spectrum. That's how you get noticed within your own party, by "standing up" for them against "the enemy". And, I would like to add, that goes for all representatives. They are fighting for their voters back home. That means that New York doesn't care about Utah, Tennessee doesn't care about California, and Virginia doesn't care about Idaho. They are all in it for their social group.

2. Driving Hijinks: The social concept on the road is almost none. People don't see people, they see other vehicles, and these are vehicles that they don't want to have a social interaction with. Hence, there is less of a personal argument to exibit the social niceties that come from respect. It's the personal disconnect from others on the road that lead to a decline in respect.

3. Slashdot: Many technical people have, by their own making, a bad reputation for not respecting other people. Partly because almost every single one of them has, at some point, been the victim of verbal abuse due to a technical failure. So, in order to mentally handle that, I believe that they have disconnected themselves from those who can't fix the issue, and therefore have a superiority complex when it comes to, well, everything. Therefore they ignore many common social niceties, because they are catering to their own "superior" community. I would like to point out that not everyone in technical positions is like that, but there are enough out there that do this that make the generalization fairly safe in it's assumptions. Therefore, their comments are made for the sake of their own community, rather than for the general internet population. Beginning to see a pattern here?

4. Emerson's Comments: I have to admit, it's because of Emerson on Mugglenet that I stopped reading his website for 3 years. Instead, I checked out other comparable websites with the same news materials. Only recently have I begun to return for the Editorials, but I am still annoyed by these little comments of his. Why are they tolerated by the Mugglenet community? It's the equivalent of a CEO slamming the Mail Room because they think mail should be color coded, and he doesn't. The answer is in the question, because it's his community. The CEO can slam any part of the company, because it's his company. Granted, it will mean that portion of people will then leave, but perhaps the CEO thinks that it will not effect the company's bottom line. The same with Emerson's comments. Perhaps he felt that since he didn't agree with these people, he can slam them and not feel the effects on his website. But ultimately, because the rest of the community supports his views, he is not critized or asked to apologize. It's because his social circle sees such disrespect as respecting their views.

The Conclusion
So, given these examples, it looks like people are not becoming less inclined to offer respect, they are just becoming less social in their interactions. Their spheres of influence are becoming more narrow, and so the scope of respect is also narrowing. So what does this mean? Does this mean that flaming emails, flaming posts, and flaming cars are our future?

I don't think so. Nothing can make people more social, but we can all take steps to expand our own social circle. First, we all need to change our mindset. Mankind means we are all of one kind, regardless of who we all are. The concept of equality needs to be expressed for everyone, regardless of their points of view. Sounds like a utopia? Well, it probably would be if it ever could happen.

This is perhaps the hardest for people to act on, as it means singing camp-fire songs with people that just don't agree with you and never will. How can you possibly respect them? By acknowledging their opinion, and not attacking it. I have a problem with attacks for the sake of argument. Just because you can attack someone else doesn't make your point right.

Anyway, that's my rant. My only hope is that in presenting my points here, I didn't disrespect anyone else in the process. If so, I would like to apologize in advance.