As a lifelong academic and someone who relishes logic and rhetoric, I am one of those people who loves a “friendly” debate. It doesn’t matter what the topic is (I have no shortage of opinions), I just enjoy the back and forth, premise-conclusion style dialogue of a heated discussion. Not to mention the fact that it is by discussing controversial issues that we learn more about them and grow as individuals. I won’t lie though, the thing that I like the most are the powerful emotions that rise up inside me as these conversations really get going. That fire in your belly that swells up as you defend your position is something I enjoy immensely. As much as I love the passion and conviction that erupts within me during these civil arguments however, and as much as I want to “win” this oratorical fight to the death, there is one line I will never cross during these debates. I will not lose respect for the other sides opinion.
Having respect for others is probably the most important aspect of creating healthy interactions between people. We all want to feel that our bodies, thoughts, and opinions are respected, and we all feel violated on a very personal level when they are not. It is not important to us that other individuals necessarily agree with what we feel, think, and do, just so long as they respect our behavior and decisions. It is all about feeling in control, and being free to form our own thoughts is probably the most coveted type of control we have. As long as we feel as though we are respected enough to have whatever opinions we choose and maintain this mental autonomy, other people can argue with us as much as they please. In a nutshell, respect is the difference between attacking an argument and attacking a person. We are fine with others disagreeing with and arguing against our opinions (in fact weird people like me actually like it), so long as they are actually targeting the merits of our arguments, not us or our right to have them. We are even fine if they argue well enough to change our opinions and teach us something, so long as they respected us while doing it.
One example of this phenomenon from my own life that I have written about before is the way my relationship with my mother suffered when I decided to move to Kansas. I knew before I told her that she would not be too crazy about this idea, so I was ready for some resistance, but I figured she would remember that this was my decision to make and see reason. I thought that she eventually would come to terms with the fact that this is my life, that this is what I had worked the last four years to achieve, and that she had been preparing me my entire life to live on my own, so it was time to try. Her reaction to this information was much stronger than I had anticipated though, and as her emotions took over more and more she went from politely disagreeing with, to aggressively attacking, my decision to move out West. While I had prepared for her knee-jerk reaction and motherly anxiety after hearing my news, I had not prepared for the disrespect I felt by the way she responded to me. Since I was not ready for this verbal assault on my choice, I felt violated, put down, and like I was losing control over my life, and this caused me to become defensive and attack back. As a result of the disrespect I felt from this single, 10 minute argument, my mother and I spent the last few months of our time together barely speaking. This could have been avoided however, even though we were polar opposites on this decision (and still are to some degree), if we had merely maintained respect for the other’s feelings.
Whether you are pro-choice, own 30 assault rifles, want to build a “Great Wall of America” between the United States and Canada, or think aliens are going to beam down this Thursday to probe non-believers, you are free as a U.S.citizen to have whatever opinions you choose. You are free to have any crazy beliefs and feelings you want, with one condition. You can have your opinions so long as you do not infringe on the rights of others to have the same freedom. This most primal, deep seated right, that is at the core of our nation’s laws, is based upon the idea of respect. Our founding fathers realized how important this basic, human liberty is that they based our entire nation on it. If it was good enough for the father’s of our country, why is it then, that we now live in a society that is infested with disrespect everywhere you turn? We can debate that controversial quandary later (get it?), but whatever the reason, it is apparent that we as a society need a reminder of the critical role that respect plays in our lives. I hope that you will take some time today to think about whether you are respecting the people in your life as much as you should. I would imagine that everyone, myself included, will come up with at least one individual who they are not giving enough respect, and we should all make a conscious effort to change our ways, and if necessary, apologize for the disrespect we showed them in the past. This will go a long way in forging stronger relationships with the people in your life, as well as make our country as a whole a much better place.