Respect: (verb) to feel or show honor or esteem for; hold in high regard; to consider or treat with deference or dutiful regard; to show consideration for; to relate to; (noun) a feeling of high regard , honor or esteem; a state of being held in honor or esteem; a deference or dutiful regard; consideration; courteous regard.
— Webster’s New World Dictionary
As 2012 comes to a close and we reflect on the events of the past year, we’re reminded of a practice some people have to start the New Year: They choose a word to live by. Sometimes, they say, the word chooses them.
Debbie Macomber, author of “One Perfect Word,” shared some of her words over the years in an article in Guideposts magazine in January 2012. They included hunger, trust, brokenness, prayer and hope. Those who choose a word for the year don’t just pick it, ponder it for a day and move on. They contemplate it all year. They say the focus on an individual word changes them. It’s not unlike the advice of many mentors: Pick one thing to work on. And when you’ve mastered or accomplished that one thing, pick another.
If we could choose a word for our community for 2013, it would be this: Respect.
This particular word comes to mind because it seems so many problems our community faces could be eliminated, or lessened, if we practiced it more.
We’ve all been at community meetings where the lack of respect for different viewpoints added to the tension and meant that people walked away from the meeting as divided as they came. Respecting others who agree with us is one thing, but how do we show respect for those who have opinions different from our own? How do we agree to disagree in a manner that allows us to work together for the community good? That’s clearly not just a community challenge, but a national one as well. Our differences shouldn’t cause a stalemate that is detrimental to the public’s best interest.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s Choose Respect campaign captures the importance of respect in our relationships. A proclamation about the governor’s program says it this way: “The Choose Respect initiative honors the dignity and value of every human being and promotes respect for ourselves and for others.” With Alaskans working together, the aim of the program is to “create a movement across our land that will restore a culture of respect and action, and create a better Alaska for our children. ”
While the Choose Respect campaign is focused on standing up against domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse, it stands to reason practicing respect also could go a long way in dealing with some of our problems with alcohol and substance abuse. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to respect others when you don’t respect yourself. And people who don’t respect themselves don’t care how they harm themselves or other people.
A lack of respect often means we fail to connect the dots in how our actions affect other people. We drive fast or recklessly or under the influence, not thinking that if there’s an accident someone could get hurt — or worse. We smoke or don’t wear a seatbelt, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our actions could hurt others, not just ourselves.
Earlier this year when community grief and outrage over a sexual assault at a teen drinking party was still raw, Brenda Dolma, a mother, youth leader, volunteer and retired teacher talked with the Homer News about how caring was the key to solving some of our community’s toughest issues. One of her suggestions was to stop all negative comments and putdowns, which she described as emotionally abusive, and “request three positive things.” At first, her suggestion seemed to us a little Pollyanna-ish. But as we’ve thought about her comments, we think there’s merit to her suggestion and it has everything to do with respect.
When was the last time we countered a negative comment with even one positive remark? Do we realize how harmful our negative words can be? Do we teach our kids how to praise by praising them or do they get more lessons in harsh criticism?
When it comes to integrating respect into all aspects of our lives, we’ve got to start some place. It might as well be with our words.
As a community, we hope we all will choose to show respect for ourselves and each other in word and deed as we travel through 2013.