Practice of Respect
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In his “The Happiness Purpose,” Edward deBono has some harsh words for love. He finds it unreliable and difficult to produce on demand. “The ideal of love,” writes deBono, “is to be replaced by the more reliable practice of respect.”
This is not to eliminate love. Love is still a bonus. But respect becomes the foundation. And deBono goes on to enumerate reasons to chose respect over love. Respect is durable. It acknowledges another’s dignity, while love puts demands on it. Love can be a hunger, a need, a temporary madness, whereas respect is understanding and appreciation.
There is much more to this deBono treatise on happiness. Most of it is common sense. The required elements are humor, dignity and respect. DeBono makes me wonder why I hadn't come up with this answer long ago. The inconsistency of love is a fact of life. There are people I can’t love, people I’ve loved and now I don’t. All that is quite understandable. And I can see that respect is a different story. There is no excuse for not having respect for another person. I may be incapable of love. But I am capable of respect.
It comes down to the use of the will. The difference between respect and love, is that I can will respect. Regardless of emotions and feelings that might deter me from loving someone, I can always show that person respect.
If there is a solution to racism, religious persecution, and the evils of nationalism, I think we can be assured that it is not love. I recall some decades back when the churches were breaking the color barrier, a Southern priest wrote of the wave of nausea he felt when he gave communion to a black person. Incredible, you might say. But our antipathies toward others have deep and stubborn roots. To ask that we love may well be an impossibility. To ask that we show respect is not only attainable, it helps us attain our own happiness as well.
Part of our difficulty with love is the word itself. It is still a mystery. “No one to my knowledge,” states M. Scott Peck in “The Road Less Traveled,” “has ever arrived at a truly satisfactory definition of love.” He has his own, presumably unsatisfactory, definition and goes on for another 100 pages commenting on it.
Now it is quite possible that the qualities we need for success in this life cannot be put into words. But to exhort us to love one another under penalty of failing as a person or society makes no sense. We are asked to exhibit an undefinable emotion which is, in any case, a gift.
Love is a feeling we can neither gain nor merit. Peck defines it this way: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” That may be love to Peck but it sounds like respect to me. Respect requires a decision and an action. I can extend and fulfill my obligations without ever having those feelings that tell me I’m in love.
The difficulty in loving can be universal. It need not involve only strangers; the difficulty can come with one’s own family. There is a scene in August Wilson’s “Fences” where the son complains to the father, “How come you ain’t never liked me?” The father thunders back, “Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law say I got to like you?” He then goes on about all he does for his son and tells why. “Cause you are my son. You my flesh and blood. Not cause I like you. Cause it’s my duty to take care of you. I own a responsibility to you!”
When deBono speaks of respect as the basis for happiness, he is not breaking new ground. Respect is no less than justice; and as far back as the Greeks, justice has been recognized as one of the cardinal virtues. "Heaven and earth may pass away," writes Amiel, “but good ought to be, and injustice ought not to be. Such is the creed of the human race.”
It is not that we must love, although that is a wonderful thing to do. But we must have justice. That sits easier with me. If I cannot love, how can I be obliged to love? Obligations bring with them the ability to carry them out. I do not need to love or even like people whom I am obliged to respect.
I like deBono’s ideas. Respect myself, respect others, respect society. This is a manifesto I can live with.