In 2022, I want to offer twelve vignettes, one for each month, that illustrate dimensions of respect. These profiles will emerge from persons, encounters, activities, or events that I have noticed during the month. I intend to attend to respect in as broad a swath of experience as possible, so I’m asking myself to see it from new and varied angles.
Professor Harry Lewis of Harvard University, a man whom I respect and from whom I, in turn, have experienced kindness and respect, suggested the title for my blog, With All Due Respect, five years ago. Shortly after I launched, Harry and I had a brief conversation about what the word “due” means concerning respect, whether everyone is due or deserves respect. The noun “due” is defined as a person’s right, something owed. To deserve something is to earn or merit it.
In an early post, Harry and I exchanged comments about respect as a response to human dignity. Since then, those who believe dignity is inherent in all humans have been sorely challenged by events at home in America and abroad. Wars and withdrawal from wars, unprecedented political polarization, hatemongering, challenges to the rule of law, repeated assaults on democracy, and incidents of police brutality have strained our impulses toward respect. A pandemic that heightens our awareness of inequality and unfairness and pits the individual’s rights against the common good has sapped our good intentions about respectfulness. Undeniable and devastating examples of climate change coupled with intransigent denial of climate science’s findings make us impatient with the deniers. A plethora of incredible conspiracy theories has stymied our intent to treat those who espouse them with regard. As a result, it has become harder and harder to offer respect to those whose attitudes and behaviors differ so dramatically and consequentially from our own—to see these others as due or deserving of respectful courtesy.
Is there such a thing as unconditional respect? Is it possible to respect someone doing demonstrable harm to people, creatures, and the earth you love? And is treating someone respectfully fundamentally different from respecting him, her, or it?
Because I don’t have answers for these questions, I am thrown back to noticing simple, modest, authentic examples of respect among people I interact with daily. This series of posts will explore instances and characteristics of respect that I see around me. I invite you to offer reflections on occasions of respect you are observing in your surroundings. I hope that by doing so, we will water the seeds of respect in our hearts, our thoughts, and our actions.