FMBR Editorial: Sep, 1999
Respect v. Hatred
In hate crimes such as the attack on the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles there is clearly a total absence of respect for the anonymous victims who just happen to differ in some way. These crimes seem to be becoming ever more common in our country and the world. Many people have asked why this is happening and what can be done to stop the trend. Many possible causes have been put forward from the lack of adequate gun regulations to the prevalence of violence on the media and the decay of “family values.” It may be that all these factors are significant and are worth attention. However, I think the basic issue is much deeper. I suspect it is the loss of respect in our society at large. I am concerned here, not with the violent lack of respect so totally absent in a hate crime, but the little but persistent failures that pervade so much of what we do as a society.
In speaking of respect I mean the willingness to grant intellectual, moral and emotional space to anonymous others who have some identifiable difference from what is seen as the ideal. The crunch comes when the issue arises with people who are seen as symbols of beliefs and behaviors we think wrong. Note that granting space even to such people does not limit debate or even passionate argument. though it does fail when that argument degenerates into a shouting match or when, by whatever means, we refuse to hear what they are saying or consider why they are saying it. Such a blind refusal not only says they are wrong, but also that they have no right to be wrong! Whenever that happens, there is always the potential for a self-righteous descent into blind violence.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that this kind of respect is being generally lost in our society. It seems wholly missing whenever we act in behalf of our institutions. An institution, be it a political party, a corporation, a church, or in general any community of people united in a common purpose, has its own agenda. Too often it pursues that agenda blindly, measuring what it does only by its success vis-à-vis that agenda. By focusing single mindedly on its own goals, it fails to respect other communities with different or competing goals.
Consider, for example, what has become of political campaigning. In its focus on manipulating the electorate by thirty second sound bites and sloganeering, not to mention trashing the opponent, where is the respect for the opposing candidate or his party? Where is it even for the voters they seek to persuade?
Or consider advertising. Almost by definition, advertisements seek to manipulate the public into buying the product or using the offered service or conforming to the desired standard. Even when advertisements are not deliberately deceptive, it is only the utterly naïve who believes they tell the whole story. In this single-mindedness, where is the respect for the people who are targets of the pitch?
One could go on and make much the same argument of almost all areas of public dialog. The specific examples may, in themselves, do little harm. We have learned to be cynical about politicians and advertisements knowing that both are parts of our system. But I suspect the pervasiveness of the pattern of disrespect makes it easier for the unstable to see themselves as heroes – champions of virtue even as they contemplate becoming violent, and sometimes murderous. If so, the root cause of hate crimes lies at the very foundations of our society. Perhaps the only final answer is to change our society into one that recognizes the virtue, and the difficulties, of respect.
Marshall Pease, Sep 1999