In September of 2009, disrespect made some big headlines. Our state’s own Rep. Joe Wilson heckled President Obama from the floor of the House of Representatives, calling him a liar in the middle of the president’s speech to Congress. A few days later, young singer Taylor Swift excitedly accepted an MTV Video Music Award, only to have rapper Kanye West shatter her moment by grabbing the microphone to express his opinion that Beyoncé should have won instead. Suddenly, something many of us have noticed on a much less public scale was brought to light: Treating others with respect is no longer the norm.
People who were not particularly supporters of President Obama or fans of Taylor Swift were appalled by these events, and with good reason. They point to a much bigger issue in our society. It seems we are losing the ability or desire to empathize. In my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, the courageous lawyer Atticus Finch tells his young daughter, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” If Kanye had been able to put himself in Taylor’s shoes, or if Rep. Wilson could have considered President Obama’s position, things would have gone very differently. But as so many today do, they both failed to follow Atticus’s admonition, or the similar one put forth by Jesus known as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12)
So how are we doing with this? Instead of reacting on our first impulses, can we instead ask ourselves how we would want to be treated if we were the terminally ill patient in the hospital bed, or the worker mopping the floor, or the overstressed young doctor, or the impatient family member whose loved one is in surgery, or any number of people we may encounter today? Respect comes with understanding that person’s unique perspective as someone whose difficulties and experiences we can never fully know, but also with remembering how alike we are in another sense. We are all beloved children of our Creator, worthy of the dignity and respect for which God created us.
God, please teach us respect for each other, for you, and for all life. Too often, we think only of ourselves. Help us to have the empathy to glimpse another’s point of view, if only for a moment, and to treat even those we don’t necessarily like with love and dignity, for your sake. Amen.
-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent