Lack of Respect
How Aware Are We Of What Goes On Around Us?
Recently some people I know were having a conversation about whether or not "the F word" has lost its power (power to shock, power to offend). It turned out that to some extent it has. I know that when I'm with my friends we use it a lot and no one seems to care. My wife uses it, I know a woman who drives a forklift for a living and curses like a sailor.
However, it turned out that it really does depend on who you are with or who's around. I wouldn't use it around my mother who would be really offended. She never washed out my mouth with soap or anything like that when I was a kid, she just took it as a lack of respect and seemed very sad that I didn't respect her. My step father on the other hand would have given me a smack if I had used it around her. That said, if it were just the two of us, well... he was a sailor ha ha ha. He had the same thought that cursing in front of my mother showed a lack of respect to her. While the word seems to be perfectly acceptable in a lot of company today, my mother's generation seemed to think that it was offensive to women and women behaved as if that were true. Some still do although they seem to be rarer today.
There are of course other controversial words. I have a running battle with a friend who thinks that he should be able to use the infamous "N word" whenever he likes. He thinks that since people of African descent use it, he should be able to use it. He thinks that telling him not to use it is a violation of his freedom of speech. I try to tell him that while, given freedom of speech, he is free to use it, if he were a sensitive person who cared about others, he would take into account the history of it's usage as a part of hundreds of years of oppression and refrain in order to avoiding hurting the feelings of people who may be within earshot. My next door neighbors are people of African descent and in the summer when the windows are open I do here them use it a lot. None-the-less, should they hear it drifting from my window because my friend is being thoughtless... well... they're my neighbors, not only don't I want them hurt, I don't want them as enemies.
So, apparently, the power of some words to hurt, offend or shock, depends on the people hearing them. One of the people in the "F word" conversation told a story about being in a line in a college cafeteria as a student and using the word casually and was shocked when he was pulled aside by the manager who made him apologize to the ladies working at the cafeteria for using the word around them. He was shocked that this had happened to him because, after all, it was just a word and one that he thought everyone uses. This got me to thinking. This guy probably wouldn't use "the F word" in front of his mother or grandmother any more than I would. Why did he think it was okay to use it in front of the cafeteria workers? The only answer that I could come up with was that he was probably blissfully unaware of them. How often are the people around us completely invisible to us? Especially people who are there as menial laborers. My friend who wants to use "the N word" probably looks around before using it just to see if it's going to cause trouble. (Not that he's the sort to temper his actions to avoid trouble, but, he wouldn't want to be taken by surprise.)
In any event, the title of this article is about lack of respect so I guess I should get to the point. Respect for my mother prevents me from cursing around her. Respect for other individuals demands that I should be aware that they are around me, and, that I should try as much as possible to be aware of their sensibilities. I would even go so far as to say that, if I can not quickly learn what their sensibilities are, I should use the maximum self restraint when dealing with them. This is a big thing because we usually don't know ourselves well enough to know when or what should be restrained. My wife for example doesn't particularly like to be hugged. She has her reasons that I won't go into here but... it's just her. Just about every time we meet someone we know, especially women, everyone hugs her. Her respect for them is such that she hugs them back and unless she knows them really well she doesn't complain about it. I know that people should be more aware that not everyone wants to be hugged so that we don't make people feel "put upon" or uncomfortable. That said, anyone who wants to can hug me ha ha ha.
If you spend some time trying to be aware of who is around you, what their special sensitivities may be and how you behave automatically (that maybe should be subject to restraint) you may find that this is harder than it sounds. Try it. It's tough. The question arises, why is this difficult? Well, my best guess has to do with two factors, well... maybe one factor in two facets. The first is of course our ego's. The ego tends to think that it's the only important thing in the world. We may have been raised not to think this way but, our sometimes invisible ego operates as if it's true anyway. That's one of the reasons we have internal dialogues about what the right thing to do is. The part of us that has some training in right and wrong argues with the part of us that knows "it's all about me".
That being the case, the more absorbed we are in what we are doing, whether that be work or play, the more the parts of us that are set on automatic are in charge of our behavior. So, the more totally focused you are on getting your errand run quickly and efficiently, the more likely you are not to notice other people in the store or what you might be doing that could show them a lack of respect. As a corollary to this, I would add that sometimes the wrong choice can turn into a habit. Sometime when we are absorbed in getting an errand run quickly we might make the decision to do something like, park illegally. This isn't unconscious, we tend to think about it. However, once done, we may be more likely to do it again and eventually we might not think about it and it might become unconscious. Even when we make that decision the first time though we may be completely unconscious of how our decision might negatively impact others.. aka.. the ego basking in it's own light rather than being mindful of others.
The second facet is that we tend to think that everyone is like us. From the examples above: perhaps the ladies that insist on hugging my wife like hugs, so, they assume that everyone likes hugs.... or.... the college student swearing in front of the cafeteria workers may have been from a family where "the F word" was never a big deal and he might have been completely unaware that some people could be greatly offended by it.
Well... if we do so much on automatic, and, it's hard to make ourselves aware of those around us, and self aware about our own behavior... I suppose some egos might want to ask "What's the big deal anyway? In public you're likely to be offended by something, so, get over it! I don't have the time, energy or inclination to be on guard for your sake. Besides, doesn't respect have to be earned?"
All I can do is disagree and point out that, if everyone showed everyone as much respect as they could, I think the world would be a happier place. When someone, purposely or just thoughtlessly disrespects us in public, don't we usually have a whole lot of negative emotions that well up in us... often effecting us for relatively long periods of time? If it didn't happen wouldn't we be happier? The more people who behave with respect for and awareness of each other, the less any of us have to deal with this negative upheavals. As to whether or not respect needs to be earned, I don't think so. I think that in a world of six billion people our only shot at living together happily is to automatically grant respect. I suppose that it is possible to loose respect for someone.. and in that case I suppose the person who lost respect needs to earn it back.. but.. I think that happens individual by individual and out in public respect needs to be a given.
All of that said, a case can be made that sometimes we are oversensitive to the thoughtlessness of others and I'll write something about that on my blog eventually and post the link here when I have.