The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Respect redux

Into me and through me yesterday shot a moment of sheer rage, such as I have not felt in some years. I did not verbally flay the two persons responsible for the incident, however -- if only because I could not find them, and that not for lack of trying.

A small and meaningless thing, in a society which values the privilege of waste. A tray full of leftover conference sandwiches I had specifically asked, and been granted, and had confirmed with the two of them -- and stepped into the library -- and stepped out again five minutes later, to discover everything had been thrown in the trash.

It was not that I had not eatten yet that day. I was not hungry, for all that budget required of me that day a single meal, and that was not yet. The sandwiches would have been a welcome addition for later, for myself and for others. It would not even have mattered if another had gained those sandwiches: either way, someone would have appreciated them.

(I myself don't observe Ramadan as such. In a temperate clime, a few hours fasting I see as no great physical hardship. Each and every one of us does more than that, sleeping. Yet a fixed obligation to abstain amid constant availability presents its own challenge: and thus the daily fast enforces a certain mindfulness otherwise all too frequently absent ... as indeed does a temporary abstinence born of budgetary constraints: and no less a dictate of one's greater environment for all that it has not the force of community sharing and has not been Read by another first.)

The basis of a common humanity, existing within a shared world, is that of respect: for others, for our environment, for the greater whole of which we are a living, breathing part. Perhaps wars still remain necessary and perhaps they don't: but where respect for the other exists, killing another human being cannot but be the absolute last resort, never the first, certainly never simply as a diversion to avoid having to look too closely at other matters. For wooden beams to hold up our houses, a tree died. For us to eat, a plant or animal was killed.

Where respect exists, it is not possible to waste: yet perhaps it is required of each and every one of us, that in order to respect, we must first understand what its absence means.

In separating ourselves out from the greater whole, in placing ourselves above and forcing to our will all things over which we hold dominion, or believe we should hold dominion: we have equally abandoned the greater part of our willingness to invest respect in the other, where force or coercion or other simple exercises of our own will-to-power seem to us to do just as well -- and thus maybe we are starting to lose the ability also. We seem somehow to have internalised that to admit respect for anything not in one's own image is to be compromising, wishy-washy. To respect is to be seen by many as weak.

I don't agree. It is hard lines which show the true brittle weaknesses, unadmitting of challenge lest they shatter: and thus a refusal to allot respect to what does not fit -- even a determined personal mocking -- is one of the earliest identifying signs of an unquestioning ism. For the defense of choice has always been attack: and one needs to attack only as a means of asserting power over that which has not of itself submitted to that power.

I draw only one exception: those who have placed themselves -- or whom circumstances have placed -- in a position such that their choices affect those beyond themselves, leaders and motivators and advisors of their respective societies: these I hold to be legitimate targets for ridicule and satire as the general public sees fit -- or not! but only with respect to those choices, those actions tied to their rule or influence over others. Not the person themself. Never their personal lives.

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