MIA: rəˈspekt, ri-ˈspekt

Over the last few weeks, the following news headlines have caught my attention:

  • Vancouver Island, Canada as reported by CTV:  Mounties in British Columbia release image of man wanted for urinating on Dairy Queen counter after mask dispute
  • Tuscon, Arizona as reported by the Washington Post:  A school ordered a student to quarantine. His dad and two men confronted the principal with zip ties, official says.
  • Flushing Meadows, New York home of the US Open tennis tournament as reported by the Daily Skimm:  American star tennis player, Sloane Stephens, who is black, opened up about the over 2,000 threatening and racist messages she’s received since losing in this year’s US Open.
  • Gulfport, Mississippi as reported by Bill Chappell for NPR:  A Man Who Accosted A TV Reporter Covering Hurricane Ida Faces Assault Charges
  • Across America as reported by Carolyn Thompson for the Associated Press:  As School Board Meetings Get Hostile, Some Members Are Calling It Quits

For me, these headlines are confirmation that no matter where we live— respect is missing in action. Our inability to respect people who serve our public in any capacity is another indication of the unraveling of our basic human decency.

The people in the headlines who encountered these disrespectful behaviors, must feel exactly like comedian, Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line:  “I want to tell you, I get no respect.”

Just like I do not understand how a terrorist can strap on a suicide bomb, I do not understand how a customer can publicly urinate in a store because personnel asked him to put on a mask.

My wife and I raised three children. Yes, there were times when we did not agree with decisions made by teachers, coaches, and school administrators. However, we never were disrespectful, combative,  or threatening in those situations. 

What was this parent thinking in Arizona? The school is trying to protect the health of your son, and your response is ok principal, my friends and I are going to punish you by restraining you in zip ties—unbelievable.

Without question, technology can be useful. But, when we use our technology to wound a human being with over 2,000 hateful, racist, threatening comments because Sloane Stephens lost a tennis match—this is beyond wrong— it is sickening. And the sad thing about these incidents is the brazen cowards who do this believe what they are doing is fine.

Hurricane Ida has just pounded the Gulf Coast. A reporter is giving an update for a local television station. The reporter and the crew are doing a live broadcast. Out of the blue, a guy from Ohio in a pickup truck stops. He approaches the reporter and starts yapping about how the news is reported. This man keeps yapping, and the reporter and his crew stop the live broadcast because of this misguided intruder.

In your news feeds, if you have not read Associated Press reporter, Carolyn Thompson’s story, about how school board members across America are being treated in public meetings, I encourage you to find the piece and read it. Truthfully, I’m not surprised at her findings, but reading these incidents touched me because I served on our county’s school board for fourteen months.

In my work as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and school board member, I had some bad days—days when my thinking could have been better. In those situations, I deserved criticism. However, in all those years of service, I can recall only a handful of times when I was scorched by another person’s disrespect.

Thanks to my college roommate, I’m currently reading The Called Shot. This book is about the 1932 major league baseball season.

The first chapter focuses on Rogers Hornsby, one of the best players of that era. After the death of his father, Hornsby’s mother moved her family to Ft. Worth, Texas. 

Ft. Worth at the time was a tough cattle town. Work was found in stockyards and slaughterhouses. Author Thomas Wolf describes Ft. Worth as a town with “pervasive wickedness.”

A Baptist minister, Frank Norris, nicknamed the “Texas Cyclone” was determined to reform this den of sin. Preacher Norris took a stand against this lifestyle. For taking his stand, this is how the preacher was treated: February 4, 1912, arsonist destroyed his church, one month later, his parsonage was burned down. (The Called Shot, Wolf, page 16)

America can’t deny that our past, our present, and probably our future is full of stories like the preacher experienced.

Why?

Well, that’s like trying to answer a multiple choice question.

Yet, I believe one of the answers is we have lost the internal capacity to respect ourselves. 

Another possibility is that people who are prone to disrespect others might just have a long history of being disrespected in their walk through life.

And there is one more, as we were growing up, being raised, what were we taught about respect? How was respect modeled by the adults in the home?

And here is another one to ponder, churches, houses of worship. 

For many years, people attended church searching for some type of spiritual, emotional nourishment. On Sunday mornings in sanctuaries, preachers could remind us to be kind, loving, caring, respectful. 

That church, the bedrock of community, with its capacity to touch stubborn souls like mine, is now rapidly fading into the landscape of our rearview mirrors.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this line of scripture from 1 Peter 3:8:  “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate, and humble.”

Good advice, but how do you sell it to people who think like this headline:  A Teen Called For Masks In School After His Grandma Died Of COVID— Adults Mocked Him. (NPR 9/10/21)

Grady Knox, a high school student in Rutherford County, Tennessee, had to stop his speech at a school board meeting. Knox, whose grandmother was a former teacher, died from COVID-19. He was urging the school board to implement wearing masks in the school system. 

Adults in the audience “mocked, jeered, heckled, and laughed” at his remarks. (Bill Chappell NPR)

That story only makes me worry more about America. 

And here is what really troubles me.

We all know in our hearts that the disrespect in each of those headlines is wrong, horribly, horribly wrong, and yet the wrong in those headlines continues to rumble across America.

What has and is happening to us?

It is clear to me that disrespect is driving a wedge of separation deeper into our American hearts.

Somehow, America must reasonably find ways to counter this unhealthy separation.

To do this, Americans must find courage in our like-minded silence.

We must nudge ourselves out of our fearful silence.

And the only way to do this is to humbly share our compassion and love with those who have lost the capacity to respect.

Respect can’t continue to be missing in action.

If we are not careful, then America could be missing in action.

Despite all of our imperfections, do we really want our country to become a vanishing speck in the rearview mirror of the world because of our inability to respect and love one another?

I want to believe that deep inside our stubborn, inconsiderate hearts, we know better.

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