In all the talk that’s been bandied about recently about gun violence in the USA (and specifically about what now/next) there’s one thing, or one aspect, that I’ve not heard mentioned, and it’s something that I believe is very important here and that’s missing from the conversation. And that thing is respect.
[And note, I am not saying that we should not also engage in the things (better care of mental health cases, the availability of and types of firearms, etc) that have been talked about, they have merit. We should look at those. I am saying this has the potential to have an impact even if those on occasion prove ineffective.]
Now, when I say respect, I don’t mean respect as in “that person can shuck two dozen oysters in twenty seconds, they’ve got skills, I respect that!” or “they have such perseverance, such strength, I really respect that in them.” No, I mean respect as in the respect we can have for each other as human beings. Respect for each other on a base level, regardless of who the other is or what they do.
And I assert that respect is very often missing in our everyday lives and interactions, and that it has been and is constantly being displaced (it’s not gone, just displaced) by something else: contempt.
Contempt is an interesting state. Defined:
- The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
- Disregard for something that should be taken into account.
Contempt is not simply disagreeing with a position. It is not even being dismissive, which would be nasty enough. Contempt goes beyond these to render the target (usually another human being) to being worthless. In that moment, the other person has no value, is scorned, and cast out from the tribe (becoming an outsider or other). They/it are garbage. Rejects.
It’s not just the media personalities that have made it their calling cards. It’s not just the recent vice president who sneered his way through his duties. It’s down on the ground, everyday, in your life level of the overheard conversations of my office where it is not that the other soccer parent did something that you disagree with; it is that they are a moron, blind, incapable of doing anything right and ultimately despicable for causing you so much grief. Or the product/object/work cursed with “this (and thus the designers) is retarded!” Or the scorn heaped upon the in-laws.
“How can these people be so stupid and yet live?” That’s the sentiment being expressed.
It is kind of shocking when we listen at the conversations around us (which may include conversations we are in or speaking) and realizing just how pervasive this has become. It seems common now that a dislike or disagreement is not handled simply as such but instead often develops into mocking the other person and throwing their entire character into question.
If this is the sentiment we continually express about so many people around us, then why wouldn’t someone on the edge, under stress, or has a reduced sense of perception not latch onto the view that either people don’t matter, or those who are not like me do not matter? And if people don’t matter, then people’s lives don’t matter. They may even “deserve” to be removed from life. If we spend so much time debasing others then that view — that others are crap and worthless — becomes more and more real. Inside of that view, people will punch parents and babies on airplanes, cut across traffic on freeways, cheat other people… and for some, who are ready to take terrible and much larger actions, they will kill.
What if that wasn’t our everyday way of relating about other people? We could have serious disagreements yet leave the contempt behind, still respecting the other human being. We could not like how someone was operating, and express it that way and not gossip about them to everyone within earshot. We could give up trying to win over everyone else, even in the checkout isle. And, we could alter how people lash out.
I assert that if someone under duress (mental illness, stress, whatever) goes to take action, if our interrelationships are defined as “people are worth something, and we respect people” rather than “so many people suck” there is a far less chance their natural reaction will be to eliminate all the “worthless” around them, and that some other (and immediately less fatal) natural reaction is what will be triggered. Their environment will be guiding them away from murder them all.
As a bonus, when contempt leaves real conversation can begin. And with real conversation we can truly embark on the path of “building a more perfect union,” for our country (no matter which country we live in) and for all.