Thursday, June 9, 2011

I 'neutral' you!

Peter Funt published a telling op-ed in the WSJ today about the word 'disrespecting' and its current usage. He made several chilling points. First, the word respect has come to mean an entitlement rather than something you earn. And the more entitled people become about respect, the quicker they are to cry 'disrespect' when they feel the least bit offended. An offense can be something as simple as not getting what you want. Sometimes, it gets positively scary when people turn Webster on his venerable ear.

In the hopes of getting things back on track, I'm going to propose a new usage. It is non-threatening, and presupposes no baggage. When I meet a stranger, I will accord her a neutral status. She has no negative or positive attributes. I give her the benefit of the doubt, of course. She is the human version of a tabula rasa, and we are a positive species by nature. Hope is in our DNA.

I think this is a fair beginning because I don't know her. I believe it is unreasonable for her to expect respect from me because I have no data. For the very same reason, she should expect me NOT to disrespect her. I don't have any data for that conclusion either. So, I will treat her as an ordinary human being, a fellow traveler on life's journey, a fellow citizen with the same one vote I have, a 'do unto other' opportunity according to the Christian canon.

Let's say we're on a bus. An elderly person boards the bus, and the stranger gets up and gives the senior her seat. Now, the pendulum swings in the respect direction. Conversely, let's say she takes up two seats, throws trash on the floor and yells into her cell phone with total disregard for her fellow passengers.  The pendulum swings into the disrespect danger zone. I smile or frown and turn away according to my data.

There are people in public life who don't seem to understand that you can push the pendulum so far into the danger zone, it flies off the fulcrum right out into space. Their public, personal and professional lives are a train wreck and yet they seem to think someone owes them respect. Moreover, they believe others can disrespect them more than they already have disrespected themselves. Their moral and ethical pendulums are sorely in need of calibration. They are so far gone that people don't want to relate to them at all, other than to find a bushel basket to stuff them under. Their fellow humans have moved from a position of neutrality to one of wanting to neutralize these offensive brothers, or maybe just erase their slate altogether.

Today we live and die by image,which we can finesse for a while, but in the end becomes the sum total of our actions. Am I just getting old, or are there a lot of Dorian Grays walking around?

So, should we meet in the future, know that I neutral you from the bottom of my heart...

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