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What Is It, Respect?

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 19, 2004
Latest Update: September 19, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site What Is It, Respect?

Saundra Davis brought up lots of important points in her comment on Tough Love and Respect. Let's go back and look at what we've had to say in Love 1A about love and respect.

How do we get from each doing what he/she wants to do, to a space in which we can come to a shared climate of respect? Fear, I don't think so, though I do think fear works at times, in limited ways. Listening, with caring, maybe? But you have to be willing to let me listen.

Think on this one.

After San Diego we had the Town Hal Forum, then exams, graduation, and New York. Now I have lots to say. that was two years ago, and I still have lots to say. Now, we have a Thread on respect and disrespect, so I'll set some of this up there. I want to go through the list I jotted down above, to give you my first impressions. Then, as you have time to reply, and I have time to reread and rethink, we'll develop this thread on respect.

  • Jonathan Lear on Love and Its Place in Nature.
  • I very much like Jonathan Lear's reassessment of Freud at the end of the 20th Century , for he makes far clearer to me than most earlier studies how we can begin to understand the mind, and so not get trapped into neuroses and structural violence.

    On. p.5 of Open Minded, Lear says: "In trying to understand human subjectivity, mind is trying to grasp its own activity. How does mind recognize itself?" Analysis deals mostly with helping one who has already encountered blocks to the understanding of self. Teaching is more about guiding us to understand mind so that we can avoid the need for analysis.

    So how did I get from that to respect? Well, I happened to be reading Lear at the time I posed these questions for a new thread. So we could use the Herbartian apperceptive mass as one explanation. Lear's discussion of Freud, and my efforts to link that to teaching were uppermost in my mind. But the interesting thing about linking concepts across fields is that it helps us to "steal theory."

    Lear emphasizes the processes of mind that are not rational, processes that are simply affective or emotional responses. He speaks of "archaic mental functioning," which refects the mind's need for self-understanding. "[I]t seems that even the most archaic unconscious mental process contains within it an implicit, fantasied 'theory' of that process. A 'theory' of the mental process is part of the person's (perhaps unconscious) experience of that process. Thus the fantasied 'theory' becomes part and parcel of the mental process, and in altering the fantasy one alters the mental process itself."

    What this means to me is that theory goes way back. We all engage in theory. We try to explain ourselves to ourselves. And that leads me to one definition of respect: a willingness to accept that the Other has some theory of action that guides her behavior, and makes that behavior make sense to her. The theory guiding her may very well be fantasied "theory," but it establishes her process of reasoning in present transactions, and deserves the respect of listening in good faith. To dismiss her theory without a good faith hearing is to dismiss the process of mind that brought her to that validity claim. I consider such dismissal violent and disrespectful.

  • Buscaglia on Respect
  • I'm going to ask those of you who were inspired by Buscaglia to share in this piece. Which sections of his books would you quote to give the flavor of what respect meant to him?

    My answer is based on memories of him. Leo Buscaglia was a joyous man, bursting with life. I remember the time he got a ticket for speeding on the Pasadena freeway on his way home. He had been singing Madame Butterfly! Imagine, driving home from teachcing, so happy he serenaded the world with an opera he loved, and was profoundly surprised to be given a ticket!

    I think that respect to Buscaglia would have meant respect for that life giving joy he saw in everything, even the drive home. He didn't just see individuals as unique, he saw them also as the fireflies that give off that joy.

  • Answerability and Responsibility and Accountability
  • Note that answerability is a gift, one that must be developed, like any other gift or talent, but a gift that we all have. Accountability is a responsibility, a duty, to do something. We do not have to voice our feelings. We do express them, in some way, for feelings and ideas and creativity and understanding insist on coming out in some way, even if in negative ways like stress and making us sick. But we are not "accountable" to anyone for those feelings and that expression.

    Some people are more passive than others. That is their gift. We don't get to decide how someone else should "answer." But, if like Bakhtin, we respect the Other, then we are always aware when we say something that the Other, like us, can answer, has a voice.

    Now how does that connect responsibility to answerability? We are responsible as humans to the infrastructure of socially constructed context in which we live, our community. That's one of the most important questions of all time: how is the individual responsible to the community and how is the community responsible to the individual? Well, we're interdependent. As Rosemary Ruether would say, "Everything is inter-related." We have a VOICE, no matter how silenced it has been, and how little practice we have had in using that VOICE for governance issues. And some of what happens in our world could be affected by our VOICE, if it were raised. Some will say that we must raise our VOICES, that we are responsible for shouting out for freedom, or justice, or equality, or religion, or . . . But when we speak of answerability on this site, we are not speaking of that responsibility. We are speaking of the human gift of the ability to feel, to understand, to think, and to express those thoughts. It's part of what makes us human, and AGENCY, within the limits of our skill at using the gift.

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