I thought we learned how to treat people with respect in kindergarten. Maybe I was wrong. Either that or some people have selectively forgotten this life lesson. How else to explain how some people interact with others. There is a general lack of respect when it comes to many people concerning politics, religion, and pretty much any important issue we face these days. I’m not sure if people fight like their lives depend on being right because they are insecure in their beliefs or what the deal is.
I know this much, if we continue down this road, the harsh language, judgement, condemnation, and dehumanizing of opponents will shift from verbal assaults to physical violence. There really isn’t any other option when we head in that direction. We’ve already seen previews of this during the 2016 presidential campaign. I don’t see this getting better after the election unfortunately. We can debate the reason why, but that’s not the point. Blaming people, sides, and parties isn’t going to help the situation, just make it worse.
If we want to stop this then we have to start thinking and acting differently. We can’t wait for someone else to start because that will never happen.
And this change needs to be more than just our individual interactions with each other – although that’s a good place to start.
I’m talking about changes in our culture. I recognize that cultural change doesn’t happen over night.
One area that should change is our criminal justice system. There are many opportunities for change here. One way to do this is to see what works else where. I recently read a story about a Norwegian prison where the inmates live in cottages, farm, and do other productive things. The focus of the prison is on treating people with respect. Not surprisingly, there is a 20% recidivism rate in Norway for prisoners who have gone through this prison versus a recidivism well above 50% in US prisons.
Now, I’m not interested in taking this and plucking it down somewhere in the US. I would guess it would be a failure here because it would stand out by itself and not be supported by the larger system or the culture. Norway is a different culture and history. They have a different relationship between authorities and those governed, and with interactions between people. Those things matter.
However, we can look at the foundation of why this system works in Norway. We can look at why it wouldn’t here by itself. The gap is where we have an opportunity to make changes in a positive direction. But this requires leadership and an openness from people to build respect and to change the culture. That won’t happen on its own. However, the church has an opportunity to lead where our leaders seem to be failing. And we don’t have to start from scratch either. Remember all those bible stories you learned as a kid – they can make an impact on the culture. Talking about universal human values in practical terms would help. Not in condescending ways, but rather as addressing the needs that people have. There is a great level of anxiety in the air, uncertainty, anger, and fear. Our government officials don’t seem to want to lower those levels. The church has an opportunities to be what it is really good at being – a place of refuge in a stormy sea of anxiety and uncertainty. And we can start with respect for one another and build from there. Not only is this good for society, but it’s part of who we are called to be as Christians.