Note: Today’s essay is “meadow length,”
where, you know, you might leave the meadow, for a while, to go down a thought-trail.
Not like “beach length,” where you lie in one place.
Pause for blog identification
I am trying to have some thoughts on “respect.” Problem is, you can’t measure it. So no help from research. You won’t find respect in, say, self help books or on Youtube TED talks, because experts prefer to speak on self esteem, shame and self confidence. That’s not helpful to me right now. I guess I’m on my own.
Society may not talk much about respect, but I’m sure society is affected. There’s even a song, from the days of “sock it to me” and young people playing their music loud: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”
I guess I could start to “find out” by thinking socially…
Every society, by definition, is organized. Even folks confined to prison will eventually end up with a “prison society,” with a hierarchy and a social code, such as “no stool pigeons.” For convicts, by the way, at the top of the totem pole are respected murderers, who face their victims, at the bottom are child molesters. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Incidentally, while in civilized society you might choose to dignify a false accusation (I won’t) by denying it once, among the simple minded prison population you must deny, deny, deny, or they will conclude you guilty.
Out in the greater world, it seems to me, while there may falsely seem to be societies or subgroups that don’t believe in respect, I don’t see how any such society could long survive.
A voice from the peanut gallery: “Ya but Sean, what about awful cities like New York, or the black neighbourhoods in cities like Chicago?” Well, New Yorkers may be a lot ruder than us, but they still claim, “I heart N.Y."; the kids on that Chicago Saturday morning cartoon show, Cosby Kids, every one of them black, seem to have no more disrespect towards each other than goes with their age group. In my boarding house, I once saw plain white middle class Boy Scouts, boys affluent enough to travel to the Calgary Stampede, figuratively chewing on each other’s arms and legs. It’s merely an age group thing.
Among black adults, down in the States, there must surely be quiet community leaders. Even if a society disrespects classes of people such as criminals, it must surely give respect to classes of people that it deems normal, such as, say, Scout Masters. Because: Every society gets the behaviour it respects.
Yes, yes, I know, the societies of Rome, Berlin and Tokyo respected fascism, (meaning: they disrespected “inferior folks to be conquered”) but this culture began during peacetime, as Italians battled Ethiopians, when they thought their respect would cause the trains to run on time, as they cheered on young men becoming samurai fighter pilots. After seasons passed, this same respect, because “nations get the governments they deserve,” eased the conscience of the Allies who felt forced to blockade and bomb.
Lest we forget: I once read a translated Japanese novel where a heroine, near the end of the war, dies of starvation: I usually forget the horror of blockades. But at least others still remember: To encourage Iraq to honour the peace treaty, instead of obstructing weapons inspectors, folks with memories used sanctions, not a cold blockade. Now I wonder: maybe they were morally wrong to merely sanction, because Iraqi obstruction continued, leading to a hot war.
Happily, I am sure societies can grow and change, just as individuals do. I hope the Axis nations would have changed their minds about fascism in the course of time; I hope that losing their war only speeded things up for them.
A popular culture hero—I forget who, maybe a private detective—once said, “Every man has got to have a code.” In my case, growing up remote, in a loose society, I gleaned my code from old pop culture, not knowing it was outdated, and from the Holy Bible, not understanding why so many, including so many Israelites, had trouble following the will of the Lord, or even the Golden Rule.
I respected the Golden Rule to a fault.
I remember one time when people less skilled in basketball were cheering me on, and I was secretly putting the ball, several times, onto the rim without it going into the basket. Not for suspense, no, I was simply trying not to hurt their feelings by being too good. As a young man I thought I was “supposed to be” without respect for my own basketball abilities or my own self.
Years later, a good friend who attended Bible College told me that my interpretation of the Bible (beating your breast when you pray, and always saying ‘I am nothing”) had a name: Worm Christianity. At the college it was not recommended. In pop culture terms, I had been like the simple folks in George Bernard Shaw’s play Androcles and the Lion.
The best antidote for me, from pop culture, was reading the mammoth paperback Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The theme? To put it crudely: If you are a very successful business person, a Chief Executive Officer, among CEO’s gathered in a room, and they suddenly propose a price fix, and even a cartel, to charitably, nicely, help the weaker, less successful companies, as some sort of business Golden Rule, then you don’t have to democratically agree with the majority. I was at around page 200 before the theme of “don’t sacrifice,” constantly repeated, could at last enter my mind’s doorway. Wow! Hurray! I would have turned cartwheels, if only I knew how.
So now, in Central Park, I wouldn’t hesitate to take on an unlucky, down-at-the-heels man at chess—and win. But still… If a few people are having a constant verbal game of superiority/one up then I walk away, or go silent. I mean, I do have a university degree. The disrespect of verbal “scoring” grates on me.
Just as a nation, such as Germany, may stop scapegoating Jews once they no longer have the stress of hyper inflation and taking their pay home in a wheelbarrow, so too, I hope, could an individual stop disrespecting people once he gets an easier life. Or maybe not.
We have all seen, in pop culture, a man whose wife leaves him, who exchanges his high maintenance bungalow for an easy apartment, who downsizes at work to an easier position, who no longer has the stress of children at home, yet… who still disrespects others. Call it a lifestyle choice. I know such a dark fellow in real life—and I don’t think being around me is good for him.
Now, back west here, we don’t have as many Jews and blacks as they do out east, yet I would guess I still, at some level, role model respecting such classes. I would unconsciously model this to that fellow, as well as model respect for the everyday butcher, baker, and chandler. This according to my old pop culture code from before I was even born.
Without consciously trying, I would surely act out my internalized code from the narrator’s roommate in the 1948 “If This Goes On—” by Robert Heinlein. In a future theocracy (worse than Iran’s) the roommate, feeling goaded from being mistakenly called an atheist, discloses to his friend that he believes in being patient with the stupid, merciful to the weak, and so forth. And that he believes God shall punish him for his un-saintly behaviour, such as smoking, not in the afterlife, but here and now: by shortness of breath, yellow fingers, and even cancer.
(Too bad the Iranians can’t grasp such concepts, but then again, their regime’s intolerance is intended for secretly serving man, not God)
What now? Shall I protect that dark fellow by not outwardly respecting others? No, I don’t do worm Christianity—It’s wrong to try to sacrifice, by hiding who I am. Still, I can’t deny reality—It stands to reason: Just as that disrespectful man grates on me, I in turn would grate on him. Ouch! Sorry—no, not sorry.
Hey, nobody said life was fair. Sigmund Freud said, “Life is the greatest teacher.” If that fellow mingles with others,
(yes, I know it’s a pop culture cliche that disrespectful people isolate, but hey, even The Great Santini had friends)
then in the course of time he may role model off of others how to manage his stressors, while coming to believe that “respect is the healthiest policy” for individuals and nations and a world seeking peace.
God bless North America.
Pause for blog identification:
You are reading
East of Eden
for anyone willing to read stuff that’s NOT worthy of being above the blog identification line:
~If This Goes On— is a short novel, one which doubled my knowledge of totalitarianism, published in the sf book Revolt in 2100 by Robert Heinlein.
~The Great Santini was made into a movie starring Robert Duval, later satirized in an Austin Powers spy comedy with a scene where the father disrespectfully asks his son: “Are you going to cry now?”
Such a powerful novel. I recently bought the trade edition, second hand, just for the new afterward by author Pat Conroy. I can tell from the internal evidence of the afterword that Pat’s brother Tim is among the youngest siblings, probably the very youngest. I find, on page 496, as part of a rundown on the Conroy siblings, “…; Tim, the sweetest one—who can barely stand to be around any of us; and Tom, our lost and never-to-be-found brother…”
Tom is gone because he jumped out of a very high window. Thanks to Santini.
How to explain Tim? If the others responded to the horribly abusive Santini by abusing each other, then Tim, having no one younger to punch, verbally abuse or physically torture, might have, in place of abusing neigborhood kids and animals, have reacted by promising never to be like them. To be “sweet.” To feel respect. And, in later years, to NOT be able to be around his old tormentors. I can relate. As for Pat Conroy, his siblings and that dark fellow I know: It must be God’s painful consequence, here in this lifetime, to know that respect is the right thing to do, and yet somehow be unable to do it.
~In the swinging Sixties Star Trek episode Plato’s Stepchildren, an abused dwarf turns down obtaining the power to get revenge on his disrespectful fellow Greeks, saying he doesn’t want to be like them. I can dig it.
On having a moral code:
Sometimes I wonder if I was standing behind the door when the code was changed. As a poor boy I could only afford old used books. In those the hero believed in honesty. So I did too. But now I find the private detective Philip Marlowe, by Raymond Chandler, could not exist today, or even as recently as the 1970’s. On Roger Ebert’s website, by “the editors,” entitled It’s OK With Me, regarding the book by Jason Bailey, is this:
“I met Chandler only once,” recalls (screen and sf writer Leigh Bracket) “I know he wanted Marlowe to be depicted as an honest man, and as somebody who was his own man. I wanted to get that into the screenplay. But I also had to show Marlowe the way he looks to us now in the Seventies… Because Marlowe, as Chandler saw him, would be unthinkable in the Seventies.” Marlow had “…the morals of a previous era.”
Yes, but— Elsewhere on Ebert’s site, in a review of Afterlife, is the sentence-length paragraph, “At a time when so many movies feed on irony and cynicism, here is a man (the writer and director, Hirokazu Kore-eda) who hopes we will feel wiser and better when we leave his film.”
Well. Maybe everybody believes that a modern day detective, or “everyman,” should be cynical and ironical, but somebody doesn’t. I bet Tim Conroy doesn’t either. I’m keeping my code.
To the Aretha Franklin respect song,
To the It’s OK With Me book excerpt essay by “the editors” at Ebert’s site,
To Ebert’s review of the movie Afterlife,
While this might seem unrelated, here is a lengthy video of a grade four class, as part of BBC research, using a baby to teach empathy. And hence respect. I really liked it. … As for the adjacent features on regular street closings, for children to play: At a central London library I found a thick research book being discarded, for only one pound, that collected traditional children’s games, passed on child to child without any adults around. Now I almost wish I had bought it.
not worth being put into part two
Lastly, as regards abuse, from the BBC, here is a video that rightly carries a graphic warning.
A victim says, “… and realizing, as well, you know, screaming and screaming, that nobody was going to help you, that was the worst part, and I carry that in my head, and in my heart, day in, day out.” As a survivor, I can relate.