Losing All Respect


“I heard his opinion, and I just lost all respect for him then and there.”

We’ve all heard people say this, or something very like it, especially over the course of the past few years. And, after all, how could we still respect someone who fell for such a transparent bit of propaganda, who listens to such an obvious con man, or who mistakes what’s broadcast on that channel for news?

Some of my faithful readers are expecting an obvious bait-and-switch; the giveaway was my failing to name that channel. But you all know as well as I do that, whether it’s Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN, most of the shows are commentary rather than news; they’re designed to entertain first, persuade second, and inform only if the sponsors permit. It’s infotainment, and if we rely on it to stay informed we deserve the confirmed ignorance we end up with.

But that’s not what I’m on about. It’s this bit about losing respect for someone. Someone must have changed the definition of “respect” when my back was turned.

I talk with an awful lot of people every day, and almost all of them disagree with me — some on major points, most on minor, but about everyone has a different opinion about something. And that’s fine. So long as they don’t go out of their way to insult me, I figure: That’s life. That’s humanity. That’s the way it should be; we can’t all be alike.

Thing is, it’s tough to have a discussion with someone who agrees with you. All you end up doing is rehashing the same truths you’re both sure of and then gossiping about someone else, like as not someone who said or did something you both think was foolish. If you’re looking for an interesting conversation, find someone whose life experience is entirely different from yours and set out to see just how much you can learn from them, especially if you keep an open mind. You’d be surprised.

I met a lady not long ago whose family lives in Iran (Persia, she calls it.) She’s excited about the wave of protests and the push for democracy back home, but she’s also terrified for her family. She’s upset with the United States over all the sanctions, and for being so hostile — not with the government, but personally, with her and her husband and her other relatives. She’s on the receiving end of so much hate that it’s hard to believe that this was once called the Land of Opportunity. Maybe we ought to rebrand as the Land of We’ve Got Ours, Now Go Away.

I hear “I’ve got no respect for people that break the law”, but the one fellow I met who walked clear from Venezuela up through three civil wars and hundreds of miles of desert to get to a border he had to swim a raging river to cross? That man’s got guts. It’s tough to meet a guy like that and not respect him. (And yes, he’s applied for asylum; his court date is almost two years out. Two years!)

When you respect someone, you listen to what they have to say. You mull it over, weigh it, consider it carefully. Even if it makes little to no sense to you, all the same you’re going to think about it because someone you respect said it. If it’s someone worthy of your respect, someone who respects you in return, they’ll listen to you when you tell them, “I disagree, and here’s why.” At the end of the conversation, if you haven’t managed to reach agreement, you’ll walk away thinking about what they said — but you won’t lose respect for them.

This is because we respect people because of who they are. That’s much bigger than any one thing they might say or think, or even do.

Now, it may happen that, over a period of time, you’ll gradually lose respect for a person. Several things they say or do reveal parts of their personality that you find disappointing, or even odious, and the more you learn about who they are underneath, the less respect you have. That’s natural.

But if one utterance is enough to make you lose all respect? That says more about you than them. It says the amount of respect you can hold isn’t all that deep in the first place.

It means you’re shallow.

Why don’t you chew on that for a while, and then come back to me later. If you think I’m wrong, we can always talk it over.

Yes, after that I’m still going to rattle the donations cup. It’s a measure of my respect for you.

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