Dearest Rachel –
I suppose this evening, I’m going to ‘find out what it means to me.’
Which I could really stand to do, as I do not understand the concept.
I should be giving you a little context, here. Tonight is the annual men’s night at church, when they bring in a speaker to teach us guys how to be better men: better husbands, better fathers, that sort of thing. The women have theirs a couple weeks before (and I still have so many of the study guides with your notes in them for future Sundays), and so now, it’s our turn.
This year’s theme has to do with the concept of, well… you’ve probably already figured it out. And I don’t get it.
Bear in mind, I’m writing you all of this before I’m going to be there, lest my current, admittedly uninformed, opinion be colored by what I find out, because I’m pretty sure my perspective isn’t like most guys. You see, the premise of tonight’s topic is based on the assumption that, in any relationship – or so they say – every woman wants to be loved, and every man wants to be respected.
Now, I’m not about to say I want to be disrespected, necessarily. But I don’t think it particularly bothers me if I’m not respected, and I don’t know why it should. If nothing else, it isn’t as if anyone can control what another person thinks about them – or even knows what they truly think of them. Why get worked up about something you likely don’t know about, let alone something you can’t control?
Now, to be fair, I can certainly understand Ms. Franklin’s position. At the time she was singing, far too much of society had, shall we say, a lesser opinion of blacks, and women, and particularly black women. Just being treated as an ‘equal’ would have been respectful, from a relative standpoint. The lyrics, such as they are, also talk about her giving things to whoever she’s singing (fidelity, finances, and so forth), and asking for a little quid pro quo.
So, if by ‘respect,’ one means to be treated as an equal, I can get behind that concept. But I don’t think that’s how it’s generally meant.
When I think of the concept of respecting someone, it’s usually within the context of a position of authority. You respect your parents, your teachers, certain government officials – although even then, there are limits to what respect you might extend. Part of that involves deferring to their opinion; part of it is simply a matter of obeying them outright. Some of these very same people will have taught you that ‘respect is to be earned, not demanded,’ and those that both endorse and live that philosophy usually turn out to be more worthy of that respect because of that.
I don’t recall that our relationship was based on any level of respect, as such, but that may be because I don’t have my head around the concept. We would tell each other ‘I love you’ frequently, but I don’t remember ‘I respect you’; not that it ever occurred to me to ask. Most of the time, our decisions as a family were made out of mutual agreement; it helped that we rarely disagreed about things, and almost never fought. I’d also learned from my Dad to listen to you (in the same way he listened to Mom) about matters of giving to others – be it time or money or what have you. I miss having that conscience around to suggest the right things to do; I try, but I tend to be oblivious to others’ needs. I really don’t know where any of this falls along the continuum of respect versus love, to be honest.
Maybe I’ll understand the concept better by the end of the day. Maybe I’ll just disagree with the speaker. Who knows?
Back when I was in college, the one J-term travel class I took included a stop in Thailand. We were informed at the time that it was the custom to greet others with a bow and a certain hand gesture that, quite honestly, looked as if the one bowing was doing obeisance to the other – like a slave to their master, or a penitent to their deity. Coming from an egalitarian society as ours, I could not get used to folks like the hotel staff doing this bow before me. I suppose that I by dint of being a customer (or rather, a guest) that I was in a position of authority over them, but the gesture seemed so obsequious, so over-the-top that I could not relate to it. I tried to wave off what, to them, probably just seemed like good manners. And I suppose, by doing that, I was probably being disrespectful of them. But I just didn’t think myself worthy of being paid that kind of apparent honor.
In many ways, I’ve learned over time that I would just as soon be ignored, to blend into the woodwork. Sure, once upon a time, I wanted to be a performing artist of some sort; I wanted to be famous. Who doesn’t, at some point in their lives? But having to deal with people, as a ‘face’? Yeah, no thanks. I’ve learned I’m no good at those kind of interactions.
Then again, it would seem that a lot of people who have been granted such a position aren’t much better than I would be in that situation, or possibly even worse, so there’s that.
At present, there are a lot of people chasing that kind of fame by pretending to be a ‘somebody’ on Tiktok. Hey, it’s where the views are these days; I don’t blame anyone for going there to chase fame and notoriety (which I think people are starting to confuse – quick reminder, they aren’t necessarily the same thing). One trend these days seems to be those folks who insist on declaimed their preferred pronouns, and then finish off with “you WILL respect me.” First of all, if you have to introduce yourself, down to the pronouns, you aren’t the ‘somebody’ you think you are. Secondly, if your pronouns aren’t obvious from looking at you, you need to work on that; do you really want to spend the rest of your life correcting people every time they get it wrong (and make no mistake, if you meet someone on the street and either of you attempts a conversation – heaven knows why – they WILL get it wrong)? Finally, what are you asking for in terms of ‘respect’? You mean by addressing you by your preferred identity? I mean, if that’s all you want, I can agree to that – I’m never going to have to deal with you personally (thank God), so… sure. If you’re insisting on approval or admiration, go look elsewhere. You look and act like an idiot; and who respects those? Sure, you get yourself some clicks and fleeting notoriety, but that’s what you swapped your soul for? Get out.
Of course, those folks (or do I have to call them ‘folx’ these days, in order to be properly inclusive?) strike me as a weird outlier as of yet. They range between amusing (unintentionally, of course) to annoying (which I think is what they’re striving for – that whole ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ thing, I’m going to assume). There’s nothing particularly respectable about them, as far as I can see.
But as long as I’ve brought up the term ‘respectable,’ I have to address the concept that comes to mind when I hear it. Especially since I’ve been hearing more stories these days about Dad’s work in the city, and the, ah… colorful… characters he met there. There’s a certain type of… ‘businessman’ that strives to be ‘respectable’ in his conduct, despite the fact that his stock in trade is not only unethical and immoral, but outright illegal. He might argue that he’s merely providing a good or service that would not otherwise be available to his community, but that doesn’t make it right, nor does it make him respectable. He might even argue that back in the day, when the ‘families’ ran things, it was done ‘with honor’; there wasn’t the sort of collateral damage to lives and property that you see today. And that might well be so.
But come on; the fact that someone seeks respectability is indicative that they know they aren’t respectable. No matter how many times they tell themselves otherwise, or how well-off they might be, or how much they ‘give back to the community’ or whatever. Sure, people fear you – anyone with a middle name of ‘The’ is a dead giveaway – and because of that, they’ll obey you. But respect? Ehh… I doubt you could call it that. Just kissing your ring doesn’t mean they like or approve of you.
Unless they’re as evil as you are. At which point, you get the respect you deserve, I guess.