In an age of rebellion, people lose sight of what’s respectful behavior

Larry Flynn

I know you were rebellious when you were a child.  Your mother probably told you to eat your soggy asparagus, and you stubbornly refused with your skinny arms folded defiantly across your chest.  

Maybe your coach told you to run a play you did not like and your teacher offered suggestions on your paper.  Instead of willfully complying, your eyebrows furrowed, your heart thumped and your mind screamed an emphatic, “no!”

Rebellion is part of human nature.  

It seems as though respect, however, is another engrained human instinct or from societal influences, from our upbringing and nurturing.  Whether it is by nature or by nurture, human beings learn express respect from an early age.  

We readily show respect toward those who are in a superior position to us or, to be polite, more seasoned than ourselves.  We demonstrate this every day when we address our teachers as “Dr. So-and-so,” “Sir,” or “Ma’am.”  We all will have bosses soon, who we will treat with respect, either out of intimidation or genuine admiration.

How could it be that human beings are both rebellious and respectful at the same time?

This complex relationship has been in existence since the beginning of civilization.  It seems, however, that modern society encourages counterproductive forms of rebellion whose core is founded in disrespect.  

Does the intensity of belief necessarily eliminate the possibility of conducting oneself in a manner that respects opposing viewpoints or ideologies? Can respectful, civil behavior accompany that cause, or is the feeling so intense that it is simply a matter of the ends justifying the means?  

Rebellion, throughout history, has often been with good intention and execution.  Consider how Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose name and work we remembered this past Monday, led a peaceful revolution against racial oppression in America.  

King should serve as a role model for all of us for more than his brilliant speeches, faithfulness to God, and social influence.  The Reverend, while disagreeing with the societal structures of the time, still showed tremendous respect for all people.

Perhaps the person he showed greatest respect to, however, was himself.  By his peaceful rebellion, King respected himself and his message enough to stray away from violence, which would have demeaned his message.  He proved that non-violent social protests that showed respect for every individual in our society could change the hearts and minds of a nation.

Today, we see many forms of rebellion against the status quo.  The “hot topic” of the day is police brutality.  Regardless of your stance on the issue, it should be noticed that both sides are using disrespectful behavior to express their views on the matter.  Neither side seems to respect the lives and opinions of those with conflicting ideologies.  

Following the multiple incidents which have occurred in the past few months across the country, a group of protestors in New York City chanted, “What do we want?” followed by “dead cops.”

“When do we want them?” yelled the group, followed by a chilling response of “now.”

A response to the important issue was marginalized by this cruel reaction of the protesters. Their disrespect for human life served only to separate people ideologically.

Likewise, NYPD members turned their backs on Mayor Bill De Blasio at both a speech and, of all places, a funeral for one of their fallen officers, in a disrespectful gesture aimed at the mayor and his policies, a childish action that further divided the two sides.  

In both instances, both sides rebelled against authority, first the response by protestors against society at large and second by the non-verbal signals send to the mayor from the Police Department.

Put your political views aside; can’t you see the problem with both of these behaviors?  Do people really want to kill cops, the very people who risk their lives day-by-day to keep us safe and who saved thousands of lives on Sept. 11, 2001?  

Do the cops really want to alienate themselves from their mayor and send a signal to the administration and the African American community that they are not interested in ethical policing practices? Both actions demonstrate a lack of respect for opposing viewpoints and the individuals who hold these opinions.

Turning our backs on one another is childish and disrespectful.  Asking for the death of another human being is childish and disrespectful.  It is due to a lack of respect for not only those in power, but is disrespecting ourselves, the people who, regardless of political stance, deserve to have our messages heard.  

In stark contrast, refusing to give up your seat on the front of the bus because you are a human being who deserves to sit where they please is not disrespectful to anyone.  Rosa Parks showed respect for her cause, her rights, and herself through her actions.

Sharing your dream for equality with millions of onlookers in Washington, D.C., is not disrespectful.  King showed respect for all humanity and for his cause by insisting on change won through peaceful, respectful means.  The civil rights movement led by King was a passionate, determined effort to change American society.  His determination to maintain a peaceful approach that respected the humanity of all was instrumental in delivering radical, necessary change to our society.

In any form, perhaps as simply as rebelling against your parents or as complex as rebelling against societal injustice, let’s remember the power and importance of respectful attitudes. Let’s show that respect for ourselves, our message, and the rights of others to their opinions enough to share.

Martin Luther King Jr understood this, and so can we.