Monday, April 7, 2008

A little respect...

No one likes to be (or feel) disrespected. But, I live in Southern California. I drive on the freeways. A disrespect-free life is out of the question. Seriously—it seems to me society now revolves around this word… this concept. We believe we deserve respect. We demand it. Name your reason. My ethnicity, my position, my bank roll, my age, my education, my experience, my fame, my appearance, my physical prowess… We further believe respect is ours to give or withhold at will. We wield it like a weapon. We use it as leverage. We withhold respect until proven respect-worthy. The most desirable position in society is one of unquestionable, universal respect without reciprocal obligation. Ludicrous!

We live in a nation (maybe a world) that has little regard for Christians (though I’m not sure Jesus doesn’t fare a little better than those who live to serve Him). So, I am used to having to earn respect. I don't generally resent this idea. In some ways, it is the nature of the life I’ve chosen and I’ve become accustomed (though not completely immune) to the frustrations of the process. In fact, respect earned has its rewards. Still, there remain a handful of people from whom I hope to be granted generous benefit of the doubt. Not because I deserve it (though I pray I might). Rather, I feel these individuals should understand the nature of the thing. Truly, I respect them enough to expect more from them. It is a small handful, mind you. Is that fair as expectations go? Maybe not. I just had a long, difficult conversation with someone over mutual respect. But, I wonder if it was difficult for all the wrong reasons. Jesus seemed saddened, once in a while irritated; but never derailed or even all that frustrated about an absence of respect from those who should have freely granted it. Huh...

To further complicate the issue, it seems "respect" has no universally accepted definition. For some, it is merely regard/consideration (to take into account, have or show concern for, think highly of; esteem). For some, it is value (relative worth, merit, or importance; to consider worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance). For others, it is preference (advantage given over others; a prior right or claim; the right or chance to so choose; being given priority). For some, it is an expectation of emotional responsibility (to anticipate and guard against all potential negative feelings in another). For still others, it is outright and unquestionable deference (submission or yielding to the judgment, opinion, will, etc., of another). At best and for most, it seems circumstantial. The kind of respect one gives is relative to whom and the kind of respect one deserves dependent on by whom it is being granted. While I can’t believe this entirely unreasonable, it is often extremely difficult to mitigate the inherent perils unscathed. It seems the arrows are flying before you even draw your bow (or wave a white flag).

So, is respect given, received, earned, lost… all or none of the above? Is it reasonably expected or is respect decorously withheld until one is proven otherwise worthy? What is the value, the power of respect received? Given?

As for earning respect: a friend of mine (musing on a slightly different topic) recently posed these questions…
"How much tooting of one's own horn is necessary?" Or is this something completely foreign to the Christ-centered life? And why is it that we feel that we have to make sure people know what we are doing? Is it because we are a society based on action, and if we do all our service in secret we appear to be inactive and ineffective? I guess it goes back to my favorite quote: "You know you are a servant when you are treated like one and it does not bother you."
I like his quote. A lot. It brings me to the rhetorical question of the day... Is there anything of lasting value that cannot be accomplished from a greater sense of respect given than received?

While I would not suppose it an ignoble or ungodly goal to live as one worthy of respect; and, though I cannot disagree that respect carries with it a certain freedom, authority, and responsibility; I wonder if being respected is requisite in the servant life... essential for joyful living. Or, maybe, it is a matter of Whose respect we seek and whether or not, when granted, it is enough.