These last few days have seen a lot of discussion and commentary over a viral video of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial. What was initially thought to be a simple situation has–in some ways–been shown to be more complex.
But there is one element of the situation that I think needs to be discussed–the concept of respect. One definition of respect is due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others…and that seems to have been missing all the way around.
Yes, there is the right of free expression–and that seems to have been on full display in the initial interactions between the small group of Hebrew Israelites. Then entered Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha tribe.
There are many videos of the situation, from several different perspectives. There have been many responses and analyses of what happened. What was in the minds of the individuals involved? The two individuals involved have each given statements sharing their perspectives. They disagree, but that is not unexpected, given that each of us involved in particular situations respond according to our backgrounds and expectations.
But what if respect had been at the foundation of the interactions? How might things have been different?
Well, obviously, first of all the Hebrew Israelites and the students wouldn’t have been throwing taunts at each other, raising the level of tensions!
When Mr. Phillips approached–from his perspective seeking to defuse the situation–he still might have been met with confusion from a group of teenagers who weren’t sure what he was doing. But respect would have suggested stepping back and trying to understand–not meeting him with actions that have been identified as offensive by many Native Americans.
Respect would have suggested that the chaperone(s) (who were meeting the students there for a bus ride back) would have stepped in and told the students to knock it off…to do their part in defusing the situation.
For all of us, respect demands that we take a deep breath. We are a community…a world…filled with diversity. For us to get along, to ensure that we can continue to live on this world in safety, requires that we be willing to have a regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. In other words, to follow a simple commandment that is found in the sacred writings of all the major religions: