The Lost Art of Respect

People watching is an integral part of my life. I’m keenly interested in how people interact with one another across lines of belief and culture. I notice details that many don’t, or at least never speak about.  I can’t turn this habit off, nor do I think I’d want to even though it frequently leads me to frustration. I’d prefer it more often led me to action.

One of the common threads woven into the fabric of those interactions which most often lead me to that place of frustration is when there is a distinct lack of respect displayed between people or groups.  It happens in such a wide array of venues – from politics to comedy to religion to schools – that giving respect may be a lost art.

Quite a few people I know would functionally define respect as “let me do my own thing, you do yours, and we won’t bother each other.” In this context, it is disrespectful to place an expectation, enforce a common rule, confront an injustice, or even simply acknowledge authority. I can see places in my life, and in my own walk of faith, where I have been guilty of applying this false definition of respect. I want to do better.

It’s possible that the true definition of the kind of respect to which I’m referring is lost.  I’ll clarify. I’m writing specifically of respect which gives consideration to another’s situation, idea or point-of-view, simply because it comes from another human being. In addition, respect holds that other person in esteem first – not only after it has been earned.  It doesn’t mean endorsing or agreeing.

Let me speak, for a moment, to the Church. In biblical terms, respect is 100% about seeking and serving the image of God in every human being; it means loving the sinner as we sinners are loved; it means submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  It means something radical!  If we all – the Church – got a little closer to this and stopped paying special attention to behaviors that scare us, gross us out, and annoy us, we just might get better at being Jesus’ Body to a broken world.  I’m talking about Lordship, here, and it seems to me that we’ve got the wrong definition of respect working on that matter too, but that’s a different subject.

There are a lot of implications. One of these is that we get our priorities mixed up, and rather than stand with people (images of God, sinners like us who should be respected out of our own esteem for Jesus Christ), we stand against them or justify our silence. Ah, irony.

Today, April 16, is the Day of Silence. Sponsored by an organization called GLSEN, it is a day where students give up their voices (literally, don’t speak) to raise awareness of the injustices perpetrated against gay, lesbian, bi, and trans peers. Why doesn’t the Church stand with these students? Most discussion I’ve seen on the matter offers advice for talking to your kids about what the bible says about homosexuality so you can explain it to your gay friends. I don’t think that’s the biblical response. I know there are many who would argue to the contrary, I respect that. I think this part needs to come first.

Here are 3 ways anyone can stand with people who experience same-sex attraction to end the injustices they experience – without compromising their personal beliefs:

1. Eliminate the use of “gay”, “homo” and similar words from your own language and encourage others to do likewise. Think about what it means when the phrases “that’s so gay” or “dude, I like your shirt, no homo” are used.

2. Speak out against teasing, bullying, harassment, and physical violence against same-sex attracted people – especially youth. Give options for expressing and dealing with the feelings behind such actions in appropriate ways and places.

3. Educate yourself to become an agent of change and end the miscommunication between the Church and the GLBT communities. Read Andrew Marin‘s excellent book Love is An Orientation for some insight into ways that can be done.

None of these require the endorsement of any particular behavior beyond “love your neighbor as yourself”. All of these only require respecting the dignity of another human being.  What would you add to the list?

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8 Responses to “The Lost Art of Respect”

  1. Sara
    April 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Awesome post!

  2. Elaine Williams
    April 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    Sara just shared this with me. Thanks for such an excellent piece!! As a teacher, I do what I can to combat the lack of respect so rampant in today’s culture. It’s an uphill battle.

  3. Michelle
    April 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Excellent post, and I thank you.

    There is a good post on the same subject here:

    Though you didn’t mention it I would guess you’re familiar with the “Day of Truth” that was organized as a counter to the “Day of Silence.” It’s a splendid example of Missing the Point Entirely.

    I would suggest a small modification of your first suggestion: “Eliminate the use of “gay,” “homo” and similar words *as derogatory terms* from your vocabulary.” Many individuals much prefer to be called “gay” as opposed to “homosexual,” for a variety of reasons, and where that’s the case, using “gay” could be more respectful.

    Are you familiar with If not, you might find it interesting.

  4. patti
    April 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    I appreciate your efforts! I could easily have written similarly of the disrespect displayed regularly in school-related settings by both students and parents. It is an uphill battle.

    I am aware of some of the other efforts. While some are helpful in furthering respectful dialogue, others are not, as you noted. Much as those who return hateful rhetoric to the likes of the Westboro folks, it doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful.

    I do agree with the contextual change to the use of gay – there are appropriate uses. Most often I’ve heard the derogatory examples I gave used by straight people in reference to things or perceptions they don’t like – not toward people at all.

    I will take a gander at

    Thank you for the comments!

  5. Todd Porter
    April 17, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Amen, Patti! I encourage the teens in my youth group to stop using those words.

  6. reinkefj
    April 17, 2010 at 4:26 am #

    Another verse came to mind: “Hate the sin; love the sinner”. “Mote in one’s own eye.” I have so many of my own flaws to work on, so many things to atone for, I really don’t have time to criticize others. Guess that’s a form of silence?

  7. Barb Ayers
    April 17, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    Great post, Patti. I couldn’t agree more!

  8. Michelle
    April 18, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    “Hate the sin; love the sinner” sounds good, but I think it still has some problems. If the sin you hate is something a person considers intrinsic to who zie is, that distinction between “sin” and “sinner” becomes quite hazy, and it becomes difficult to tell where your hate ends and your love begins.

    I don’t mean to provoke a debate over whether orientation is in fact innate; a respectful outlook must acknowledge that many people feel it is so.

    Timothy Kincaid at BTB has some useful things to say about “hating the sin” in the post I linked to above.

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