“Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.” – Albert Camus
In the last chapter I wrote about the bodhisattva, the buddha who sets aside her own well-being for the well-being of humanity. We have gone far down the road of the “what’s in it for me” society, but not so far that we can’t reverse it. My salvation was that I wasn’t born a part of the ruling class. Instead, I was a restaurant manager. I had the privilege of working in a variety of jobs that allowed me to mold the minds and work ethic of young people. I wasn’t perfect. I had some major failures along the way. The one thing that I tried to instill in every one of the m was the idea of respect. It is a word that I hold above all others. Respect comes in many forms, but each of them is an unconditional virtue.
If we are to build a global community, the first pillar has to be respect. The wonderful thing about humanity is that each of us, all seven billion of us, are unique in every way. There are as many different nuances that color the way we identify ourselves as there are people in this world. We come from different countries and different regions, states, cities and towns within those countries. We speak different languages and different dialects and accents within those languages. We come from religious backgrounds that mold our philosophy, the way we think and the things that we believe in. We are attracted to different things in our fellow humans, be it body shape, coloring, features or gender. We have different ancestries that dictate the color of our skin, the consistency of our hair and the shape of our features. And the nuances continue all the way down to the sibling level, where a twin will often look, act, talk and believe differently from his other half. It is impossible to know with any surety who you are looking at the first time you encounter them. And yet there are many people on this earth that will slap a label on you as soon as you walk through the door.
Like the bodhisattva setting aside her happiness for the happiness of all mankind, it is a necessary evolution for mankind to set aside its prejudices for the betterment of all bodhisattvas. Every human being is more than ninety-nine percent similar to every other human being. Our blood is for the most part interchangeable. Our body parts can be shipped to the other side of the globe to save the life of a person needing a kidney or heart. You, yes you, could be involved in an accident today with a person that is your racial, cultural or sexually oriented opposite and have your life saved by that person’s body parts. It is likely that the doctor performing the surgery will be completely different from either one of you. Despite all of these facts, we slap labels and prejudices on people that we know nothing about because of our beliefs, fears, upbringing or ideology. What we should be slapping on them is respect.
We hear about it in the headlines. “Cops weigh in on bullying suicide” “White supremacist executed in Texas dragging death” “California kids accused of taunting black teen with a noose” “I witnessed genocide, inside Sri Lanka’s killing fields” “Israeli Parliament approves plans of the ethnic cleansing of 30,000 Palestinian Bedouins.” I could go on and on, but you get the picture. People are perpetrating bad shit on other people in every corner of the world. And then the other side fights back. And then it escalates. And so on and so on. Who profits from all of this? Not you or me or anyone we know. The people profiting are the suits at Halliburton, UBS and Barclay’s, the warlords being paid off by this government or that and dictators paid to look the other way or do the dirty work. The same dictators that we see toppled and murdered when their brand of barbarism suddenly goes out of style. So what can we do about it? It’s hopeless, right?
Not so fast, my friends. Just because we’re sitting in a safe little house in a safe neighborhood in the middle of America, it doesn’t mean that we are powerless. We all have the ability to reach out to our neighbor and build a community. We all have the power to show people respect in spite of their differences. We all have the ability to help someone who is bullied or oppressed, be it economic, societal, racial, gender or racial orientation. We all have the power to stand up and say, “this is not right” “war is not right” “bullying is not right” “foreclosure is not right” “insider trading is not right” “taking away worker’s rights is not right.” There are 2,400 locations around the world where you can go out and stand on the street, hold a sign that says, “THIS IS NOT RIGHT!”
A true global movement has to start on the grassroots level. Your grassroots level is you neighbors and the people in your community. Think of it as a field of grass. When we deconstruct the field we find a fecund soil burgeoning with a million tiny seeds. Those seeds represent the hopes and dreams that lie within our hearts. We inherently know that the people of our community are no different from ourselves, yet we allow our preconceived notions and predilections to get in the way. If we allow ourselves to the off these notions we will see the human spirit in the most different of men.
So the seed of awareness sprouts in our hearts and begins to grow. As we become more committed to our belief, we acquire an emotional stake in our cause. This is like a bee, buzzing around us as a constant reminder of what we know is good and beneficial to all. The bee begins to buzz all around our community, pollinating everyone that it comes in contact with. Our field of grass begins to sprout the flowers of our labor. Our neighbors acquire their own bees and the field becomes a garden. Our community transforms into an Eden of bees and flowers and honey and love. This is grassroots activism.
Getting back to respect. What does that actually mean? My dictionary tells me that it means to “admire deeply as a result of their abilities, qualities or achievements.” I suggest that we amend that to make it read, “admire deeply regardless of their abilities, qualities or achievements.” Every human being deserves respect on the basis that they are just like us. They may have different hopes, fears and dreams, but all they really want to do is to live their lives in peace. So reach out to your neighbor, to your neighbor’s neighbor, to the man on the street, to the woman at the market, and give them a little respect and love. Ninety-nine percent of the people will repay you in kind if you give them a chance. If ninety-nine percent can come together, the one percent will surely fall.
So, what are you going to do today?