Saturday, July 02, 2005

Unconditional Respect

It may have been time for me to leave the religious forum in which I posted the note included in a previous entry here. But, alas, I was unable to do so. It seems that I had more to say and learn there and still do. This is what I said there today:

i give respect to those who deserve respect

I guess I understand the notion that "respect" is something that one either deserves or doesn't. But it seems to me that a problem with this notion is that, since most of us are far from perfect, it's pretty easy to find reasons not to respect almost anybody. And a sad but predictable thing happens when we judge someone not to be worthy of our respect. We treat them disrespectfully, and guess what happens? They return the disfavor. And we turn around and do them one better. And they do us one better still. And pretty soon you can have a very ugly situation.

This world has a lot of ugliness in it. Wars, famines, epidemics, natural catastrophes, and lots and lots of hatred and mistrust. Indeed, a litany of ugly things could stretch almost interminably. But there is also so much beauty in this world! Louis Armstrong celebrates some of it in one of my favorite songs, the classic "What a Wonderful World." And some of the most sublime beauty in the universe lies at the core of the human heart and soul—the beauty and unbelievable power of goodness and love. Some cynically dismiss these qualities as sociobiological adaptations selected for their survival value. I see them as what a Mahavishnu Orchestra song calls the “Smile of the Beyond.” They are a light shining from a divine source not up or out there but “closer to us than our own heart.” Now this is not necessarily the divinity worshipped in church, mosque, or synagogue, but the divinity that does the worshipping, yearning to connect with the ultimate mystery of itself.

When I look at people in person or via their postings in forums such as this, my ideal is to focus not on the ugliness that exists in all of us, but on the beauty that is also there. In some, it is right on the surface and readily evident to all. In others, you have to look deeply and keep on looking to find it. But it’s there, in all of us, eager to shine forth into the darkness. All we need to do is encourage it. Unfortunately, I don’t always encourage it the way I’d like. My ideal is to focus on the goodness and beauty in each of us, but the sad fact is that I too often focus on the ugliness and lose sight of the beauty, and my blindness to the beauty translates into conduct that dishonors and disrespects others and magnifies my own ugliness. And is it any surprise that the people I treat this way do the same to me and to themselves?

No, I don’t want to think in terms of people earning or losing my respect or even love. I want to think and feel in terms of unconditional respect and love for the beauty that lies in each of us, and even for the ugliness that, as the philosophical Taoists say, enables us to see and appreciate the beauty for what it is. It’s not easy to do this by any means, especially when people, with or without our provocation, disrespect, dishonor, or even hate us. But, as Spinoza said, “all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.”