On Respect

I am thankful for today. It was early, not yet 5:00 am, and my eyes were heavy when I started this post. But I woke up with some thoughts in my head, and I wanted to get them started before I went to work.

I went to bed last night after a very long walk, and also after reading the first few chapters of Proverbs, and I rose this morning reflective upon the idea of respect. There are some passages I want to call out, and several thoughts I’d like to share.

So far, one of the prevailing themes of my writing in this space is the folly of pride and arrogance.  Specifically, my pride and arrogance. In the past, I have allowed them to get the better of me–and I am sure that I will fall prey to them in the future. I think they are my greatest weakness. (My flaws are many, though, so it’s difficult to rank them.) Over the years, that pride and arrogance had closed me off from the world.  I’ve said that before.  What I haven’t said before is that, much to my dismay, they also at times made my spirit spiteful, even mean.  Worst, they begat disrespect.

When I’ve looked inwardly at my failures this week, I’ve discovered that I have held little respect for my fellow man.  Elders, parents, peers, youths, even people I pass on the street have been bystanders and extras in my own life. Even when I understood intellectually that they are human, and they are alive, and they therefore deserve respect just as much as myself, I did not have that respect in my mind and heart.  It was just words. “I respect you.” It carried little weight in my soul.

The idea that I had never considered before, and that I realize now, is that humility and respect are related. To respect God is to be humble before him, and I cannot have the former without the latter.

It is the same with my fellows on this earth.  Men, women, and children of all colors and nations are equally low alongside me, and equally exalted. Understanding that, and being humble before both God and my fellows on this earth, is the first step to having respect for both in my heart.

Romans 12:10 teaches to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” In order to respect each other, we must first lay ourselves lower than our peers, and to consider them our betters.

It is the same with our earth and its other, non-human inhabitants.  I must see this home as a gift given freely, and not as repayment I have earned. Our fortune is great, and every creature on this earth, as well as the ecosystem itself, deserves our respect.  We are all laid low in the eyes of God, and even if we are the greatest among the creatures in his eyes, we have no right to treat the gifts given as though they are secular and made by human hands.

For further understanding, I’d like to turn to a neologism that is secular, and one for which the definition is made up.  John Koenig, a writer whose gift I greatly respect, created the website The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. There, he creates words and defines them. The words may not be real in a conventional sense, but they can still be very true.  This one is my favorite, and it is very relevant to my thoughts.

Sonder:  n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

We are all together.  We are all equally complicated and wonderful, and this life on this world is a sprawling network of connectivity.  If we respect each other as equals, and pay forward humility and honor to each other, that rising tide will raise all ships.

In the past, I’ve neglected humility. I could say the words “all men are created equal,” but until recently, because of my arrogance, what that meant in my heart was that I was greater than or equal to anyone I met. Until someone proved that they were my equal, I did not consider them worthy of respect. I will strive every day to switch that around, and consider myself to be humbled next to my fellows, just as I am humbled before the Lord. Then, and only then, will I be capable of respecting them.

Prayer in my heart at the moment:

Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, help us to love each other above our own selves. Make me humble that I might see that we are all equals in your eyes, and that we are all in your service.

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