We tend to compartmentalize our lives. Our heads ache, yet we don’t consider the small amount of sleep we’ve had this week. We feel sluggish, but have forgotten about the donuts we finished off a few hours ago. A spouse or friend seems distant, and we have no memory of the harsh words we spoke to them yesterday. Life has more connecting points than we realize.
We can also find connecting threads in the news of the day. They may seem obscure, but they’re there.
One of these connecting points exhibits symptoms. The word civility is frequently tossed around in public discourse. Commentators point out the lack of civility and call for its increase. Civility though doesn’t reach deep enough to reveal the symptom I’m suggesting. What I have in mind is an obvious lack of respect for other people. Not only is it affecting the way people think, but we see it directing people’s actions.
Whether you talk about the #MeToo movement, immigration, LGBT issues, religious liberty, national issues, state issues or just about any issue in between, there is an increasing level of disrespect being shown.
This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. I’m not asking people to surrender their opinions. But our ability to disagree respectfully is disappearing. This fade is seen by the increase in protests that result in name calling, violence and even death. It’s also heard in the silence. Some people are walking away from the conversation because they want to avoid this type of conflict altogether.
This is only a symptom though. The job of a symptom is to call our attention to a greater problem. The headache mentioned earlier doesn’t exist for itself. It exists to point you to your need for more sleep.
Where is the deeper problem? Where is the lack of respect pointing?
The rise in disrespect is pointing to the diminishing value of human life. Every human life is valuable and worthy of dignity and respect because we are created in the image of God. This doesn’t mean we are God, but that we’ve been created with gifts, abilities and attributes that reflect God and, when utilized, make the world a better place.
As a culture we’re increasingly treating other people as instruments that have been created to serve our own purposes rather than the valuable treasures they are. Some people allow themselves to be treated this way by using their gifts, abilities and physical features for simple gain, but most are forced into this sad position. They are used as tools to further a political agenda, to help the powerful retain power, or provide emotional or physical gratification.
How can you know if someone else values you? Pay attention to how they treat you after the fact. How do they treat you after the money is spent? Are you still treated as valuable if you try and fail? After you’ve done whatever they wanted you to do, what happens to the relationship?
We’re not all victims, though. Just as we can be treated this way, each of us is capable of trying to take advantage of our neighbor. Even if we say we value human life, we might be found guilty of acting as if we don’t.
How do we deal with this problem?
People on both sides of an issue must take initiative to show dignity and respect. Double check your sources to make sure they’re truthful and accurate. Think before you speak. Avoid rushing to judgment. Above all, heed the words of Jesus, “Whatever you wish your neighbor would do to you, do also to them.”