Respect vs Acceptance and the War on Semantics

In the wake of rising violence and bitter political rhetoric in America over the past few months, if not years, a great deal of debate and argument has gone into the semantics of the language we use in our effort to deliver an opinion. One area of national debate, however, suffers tremendously at the hands of semantics but is rarely considered: respect versus acceptance.

It is often preached in the media that we, as dutiful Americans, should come to a point of acceptance of our many differences. In the aftermath of tragedies, we are to accept the lifestyles of whomever was the target of the hate whether it be a particular race, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, or other distinguishing mark. Using the word acceptance, though, forces critics to go onto the defensive because it insinuates that their belief structure is somehow less worthy of acceptance or less valid than others. A society cannot practice blanket acceptance of every idea, lifestyle, or belief and still maintain a diverse populace of different minded people.

Where a society can thrive, grow, blossom, and achieve a peaceful state, lies in a simple word change from acceptance to respect. Respect does not ask one party to change their beliefs to align with another. Respect does not condone of another’s perceived wrong doings. Respect simply acknowledges that there is more that binds us than divides us and that while we may not all agree, we can live side by side in harmony.

Respect is a cornerstone of the American way of life. It is the reason that, had the monster in Orlando been caught alive, he would have been investigated free of unlawful search and seizure, prosecuted by a jury of his peers, and sentenced free of cruel and unusual punishment. It is what makes America greater and stronger than her enemies. Our ability to respect even the lowest among us is a great indicator of the strength of our society.

One of the problems with using words like “respect” is that it has become synonymous with politically correct thinking. It sounds soft and feels like new age do goodery but not so long ago things that are now considered politically correct were simply considered good manners. Sure, it infuriates all of us when our politicians cannot answer a simple question with a straight answer for fear of hurting their image in a particular demographic but refusing to bemoan a religion or sexual orientation, or skin color, or economic class is not being politically correct rather simple, basic, manners.

On a personal note, I hate the cropping of pit bull ears. It’s a pointless practice done only for cosmetic purposes and makes the dogs look mean which accentuates an already abundant negative stereotype. Because of my wild distaste for this practice, I opted not to clip my pit bull’s ears. When I see a dog with clipped ears on the street, though, I don’t call out the owner, I don’t hurt the dog, I don’t pick a fight, I simply say hello and let the dogs sniff each other and move on. Further, I have never considered attacking a veterinary clinic that performs ear clippings and refuse to base the majority of my political opinion on the subject.

I do not accept the practice nor do I accept the owner’s decision to participate in the practice but I respect the man as a man, understand that his decision has little bearing on my way of life, and believe that our love for pit bulls out weighs our preference on their ears.

Obviously this is a simplistic view of an incredibly nuanced and delicate matter but it does help to illustrate the larger point I’m trying to make.

There are a vocal group of people who hate the idea of homosexual sex. Fair enough. But what if gay couples didn’t have sex at all. What if every gay man simply desired the partnership of another gay man for the purposes of joining assets, raising a child who may otherwise be abandoned, and caring for one another in times of need, would these critics still be against gay rights? My guess, and this is based on nothing but a gut feeling, is that most opponents would have no problem with that scenario. Two responsible adults, cohabiting a single domicile for the purpose of caring for a child in need sounds like a perfectly wonderful, selfless act. So why, then, do so many ignore all the wonderful things because they are more consumed with the manner in which love is expressed physically? Can we not see that these people are exactly like everyone else save for one private act?

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

The issue goes much deeper than homosexual civil liberties, of course, but it is one of many examples where the use of a doctrine of acceptance has mucked the movement and created a great divide. One can respect homosexuals without engaging in homosexual activities. One can respect Muslims without praying to Mecca. One can respect Yankees fans without being awful, terrible people.

We, as Americans and leaders in the global community, cannot let our politicians and pundits label us as weak, less informed, or less intelligent simply for respecting the laws of the land and, ultimately, the laws of every major religion in the world. It is what makes us strong and what will allow us to thrive in the future. Instead of being hyper-focused on matters that barely affect our day to day lives, let us all respect one another and come to solutions for the problems that truly do impact us all as a nation.

In the New Testament book of Galatians, it is written “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Regardless of your religious beliefs, is this not the perfect mantra to live by? Does it not illustrate exactly the world we’re living in right this moment as we all stand by biting and devouring one another. That verse, simplified, could simply read, “Respect and Thrive”.

The verse directs us to “love they neighbor as thyself” not “do as your neighbor does”. That’s the difference between respect and acceptance. I love a great number of people who I differ with in terms of political, religious, social, or personal beliefs, as does every reader of this article. Where we need to improve is by loving all people with those differences.

My father once gave money to a homeless person when I was a child. I was old enough to have heard that homeless people just spend the money on alcohol and cigarettes so I asked my dad why he did that if it was just going to go towards something bad. He said to me, “how I treat that man is between me and God. What he does with that money is between him and God.”

My father may not remember uttering those words to a 10 year old me but I have made it a guiding force in my life. At the end of the day, I have to go to sleep with only my conscience, not yours or the homeless man’s or the gay couple’s next door or the Muslim shop owner’s, or the Mexican worker, or anyone’s. I do not have to tally up the sins of my neighbor and I am forbidden from judging my neighbor for their sins, whether from a religious side or a government side. So, why consume my day worrying or fighting about something that I don’t have to answer for?

Respect will help us all sleep better at night. We will all lead healthier, happier lives if we just respect one another. We don’t have to accept every thing everyone does, we don’t have to like every person we meet, we don’t need to defend anybody but ourselves but wouldn’t it be a lot easier to defend ourselves if we lead a life of respect towards our neighbor?

Our legacy as a country, as a society, and as individuals lies at the brink of destruction. We are careening towards a divisive mentality that will take generations to repair. We need to lead by the example of our good works, our charity, our compassion, our empathy, our strength, our forgiveness, and our respect.

We need to make America better than it was by learning from our mistakes instead of actively trying to move back towards them.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…