Sunday, August 09, 2009


I've been thinking a lot lately about respect, and how we dole it out. Do we respect the homeless man, the mentally ill woman? Do we respect the secretary, the maintenance man, the day trader, the day laborer? Do we respect the skateboarding kid, the nursing home resident, the single mother in the broken down car?

We place a huge amount of emphasis in our society on what people do for a living, as if somehow that relates to their worth as human beings. How did that develop? It seems like a system we would have nipped in the bud before it ever took root.

On the news in the US there's a phrase you hear repeatedly when talking about an accident somewhere: "No Americans were harmed." What is implied is that American life is more valuable than other life. Do we respect Americans more than other nationalities? Do we respect people from England? Australia? France? Mexico? Germany?

We respect people who drive certain kinds of cars more than others. Does a BMW really make the driver more worthy of respect than a Ford Focus?

Respect is tricky business. We all want it. It's a universal human desire it seems. But, we can be stingy when giving it to others. Why is that? Do we view it as a commodity that we can run out of if we give?

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sigerson said...

I've read enough overseas newspapers to know that each country focuses on the local effects of an international event. I almost guarantee that, when a plane crashes, a Stockholm paper reports, "No Swedes were injured."

Yes, maybe we Americans are more insular than many cultures, but it's just good journalism to touch on how a global situation hits (or doesn't hit) home.

As to the importance placed on one's job, I feel we can find out a lot when we ask someone, "What do you do?" Maybe it wouldn't have been important when our parents or grandparents were in the workforce. How much could you tell about a chemical company accountant based on the job he had? Probably not much.

But today, so much of our identities are tied up in what's on our business cards. We are so much freer than earlier generations to choose a job we like and a career we love. It can tell a lot about a person's world view to find out how he or she draws a paycheck, as long as you make exceptions for the Army colonel who writes poetry or the sociologist who goes to stock-car races.

Didn't mean to disagree with you so much, but darn it, you make me think -- as usual!

Patsy Terrell said...

I don't mind you disagreeing with me... you're a thoughtful person... and, as of yet, you've managed to not invoke the old SNL bit by saying, "Jane, you ignorant slut."

I'm going to think more about what you've said here. Interesting to consider.