What does it mean to show someone respect? There is much debate on this. In my parent’s generation and their parent’s generation there was a lot of attention to names and titles. If you called someone Miss and she was a Mrs look out! If someone was in the military and you referred to someone’s rank and got it wrong, duck! Clergy were Rev. or Father or Pastor. When my grandmother’s name appeared in the newspaper years ago she was always referred to as Mrs. Charles Pitcher. When genealogy was all the rage a decade or two ago I was frequently asked to look up names in the Marriage Register, Burial book or Baptism records. More often than not I would find four different Mrs. John MacDonalds. I had no idea what the woman’s first name was!
Now respect means something different, it seems to have more to do with affirming choices or identity or both. One does not judge or question how the other presents her/himself, one offers respect, treats the other with dignity and understanding. Case in point, when I was growing up in Halifax the worst slur someone would offer at another pertained to their sexual orientation. Now at my daughter’s Junior High and High Schools there were clubs devoted to groups whom identified by a variety of sexual orientations. People want you to know who they are, to respect who they are, and no conversation or relationship can move forward without that basic mutual respect.
Personally I am more comfortable with how respect is used today than how it was practiced in my parent’s and grandparent’s generations. I find it easier to navigate being open to different ways of being in relationship or expressing one’s self than I do remembering titles, ranks, and status. I also find the matter of status problematic as a Christian, my egalitarian instincts kicks in hard. Oddly I don’t worry about how others treat or call me but it bothers me that as a community we value some more than others. Some will say that titles don’t imply preference but it is hard to accept that when one sees where people sit, stand, or are treated within a community when titles are at play.
As someone who is often labelled “different” or an eccentric I also have a stake in how we show respect. I am a straight, white, male, who is a practicing Christian, so there is not much “different” about that! But I am a minimalist in a cluttered and materialistic society, someone who prefers to walk and take the bus in a car culture, someone who loves to work as opposed to laying on beach or playing rounds of golf. What I’ve learned to do is discern what groups offer me respect for my choices and which ones don’t. In job interviews colleagues who are part of search committees routinely assume I would want this or that as part of my contract when in fact I want no such thing.
The good news for those of us who are “different” is that we have practice using respect as a means of understanding and honouring others. We have no choice! The more conventional one is I find the harder it is to respect others who live out a more unique reality. There are choices that even the most “respectful” in our society cannot abide; selfishness, laziness, indifference, vanity, and all the isms (sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc…). But for most of us the respect we are asked to give is basic to the diversity that is humanity. We are all unique, all creatures of our God and thus all sisters and brothers in an organic global family. Sisters and brothers, all respected, all loved.