“But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you…” I Thessalonians 5:12
Years ago a homeless woman stayed for several months somewhere near our church. Her name is Rosemary. We would see her periodically as she would slip in to freshen up in one of our restrooms. She was a private person, especially because she didn’t know if she was welcome. When any of us saw her, we would speak and greet her by name. One day, not long before she left, she stopped and spoke with one of our church staff in a rare conversation. She just wanted to say “Thank you” – thank you for speaking kindly, and especially for “calling me by my name.”
Respect is to relate with others with thoughtfulness and with regard for their feelings. Respect is to treat them with dignity and consideration. We stand side by side as sisters and brothers together. As peers. No one better than anyone else. Respect. Mutual respect.
Racism, sexism, elitism of any kind has its foundation in an absence of respect. The world can have a way of diminishing those who are perceived as different. They are put down – sometimes demonized – and given slang nicknames to depersonalize them. This lack of respect, this dehumanizing, usually springs from insecurity. If I am not grounded in who I am, then I feel anxious and insecure. If I don’t feel worthy, however subconsciously, I may be tempted to diminish you. I lash out to make you lesser – so I don’t feel so badly about myself.
The natural outcome of this lack of respect is to be polarized and adversarial. It is as though, If I am right, then you have to be wrong. This competitiveness and rigidity aborts any meaningful conversation. There is no mutual search for the truth. Disrespect does not allow either of us to see the value and validity of the other’s perspective, thus cheating us both from being enriched.
I can respect others and disagree with their views at the same time. If we find ourselves in genuine conversation instead of polarized as adversaries, we may gain value and insight from perspectives with which we do not ultimately agree. We all may be enriched by having moved out of our rigid, narrow worlds and viewing life from other vantages.
We need one another. None of us has a corner on the truth. True communication requires an openness to hear, which takes respect.
Respect for all. For all of God’s children. Respect for all as God’s children.
Prayer: O Lord, may respect be shown in our spirit and in our manner. In Christ name. Amen.