THE word “respect” has been trending these days. It has been commonly invoked by people who feel that their ideas are attacked in social media. It is the defense of those who cannot explain their positions properly. It is even the defense of those whose ideas are logically or factually ridiculous but are nonetheless insistent for plain ideological persuasions.
This is the problem when our understanding of democracy is reduced to the mere “expression” of ourselves without any accompanying accountability or responsibility. We have forgotten that freedom is a value that cannot be separated from other values, especially justice, truth, and the common good.
We are all gifted with the liberty to explain ourselves but always and never without the duty to do so in a manner that is “honest” and accurate. This does not mean that democracy is only for the intelligent.
But just because we accommodate opinions from all walks of life does not mean that we no longer have the right to “correct” those who are destroying the foundations of humanity with “twisted interpretations.”
Sadly, we are living in a society where poverty in thought is spreading like wildfire or killing us fast like cancer. There is this trend where anyone who seeks to correct another is labeled “disrespectful” or “impolite.” The burden is being shifted to the critic – labeling him as lacking in civility for questioning the sanity and soundness of the idea of “the other.” It’s as if being respectful means that one should just nod or embrace everything which “the other” says for the sake of friendship and world peace.
We need to rethink our notion of respect and ask whether we are not abusing the word. I am of the strong conviction that “respect” like “unity” can be ideological and can be used for political reasons. For while it is part of human values to treat the other with dignity but in the “order of things” values must also be arranged based on the standards of reasons otherwise we would be using them wrongly and for selfish or narcissistic ends.
Most people today (especially those who are fond of littering their ideas in social media) would demand others to respect their position. I agree that there must be a certain degree of “civility” or “politeness” that must be observed when we criticize one another. But just because we need to be polite or civil does not mean that we should not launch theoretical objections against perspectives or views that are unacceptable or objectionable. Are we to just nod our head in favor of readings or interpretations that are twisted? In the gradation of values or virtues, friendship is important, but it must be subordinated to “truth” and “justice” which are higher values. Otherwise, if we insist that “respect” is an absolute value that cannot be subordinated to another higher value then we will end up tolerating abusive relationships both on the personal and social levels.
Precisely why the philosopher Oliver Sensen argues that although politeness and reverence are “moral demands,” they cannot be the “universal standard of respect.” Being polite “is not a criterion of the universal grid of respect.” A converse situation would prove this. We know for a fact that there are many people who are very good in putting up a “polite mood” in front or would even “revere” you in public but are nonetheless harboring disrespectful sentiments “behind.”
When one needs to say something, be upfront or blunt, because there is a need to deliver a point, such need not be an act of disrespect.
Axiologically (axiology is the philosophy of values), it may be that the most respectful way to engage the other is to clearly communicate a sentiment even if they are in the form of objections and criticisms.
Especially if understood within the context of our search for truth, we may have to sacrifice civility because we cannot also be guaranteed that “goodwill” pervades in the entire atmosphere of the discussion.
Especially in the world of politics or working relations where sometimes things are “too good to be true,” the presence of this so-called goodwill must be sought and tested.
Anyone who carries good faith in his heart will survive all objections, even the most disrespectful. Those who harbor ill-motives will always be easily hurt and thus find even ordinary rational discourse as “disrespectful.”