Monday, March 29, 2010

Rectifications (22) – Minister for the “respect agenda”?

Rectifications (22) – Minister for the "respect agenda"?
Torrey Orton– March 29, 2010

How did I miss the Maddening one? Guess I was concerned about learning to act ethically that day. The grounds of my amazement today are summarised well here. Meanwhile, trolling the net for a few minutes failed to reveal a definition of that agenda's prime term – respect. Then I found John Brumby, Dec. 2008 on respect, noteworthy for its negative simplicity. His three defining propositions are things not to do. Presumably these are items of disrespect. So we can't learn much about what to do or how to be respectful or ourselves, others and our community.

"Our government understands that many Victorians are concerned about anti-social behaviour in the community," he said on Wednesday, after announcing Mr Madden's new role. "We have got some challenges in our community, particularly based around what I call respect. If you respect yourself, you don't go out and binge drink; if you respect your community, you don't go out and vandalise it; if you respect people around you, you don't go out and beat them up."

I suspect some spin'ster (contraction of spinmeister) told him that positive propositions would open the government up to empirical review of its respect performance. Not that this should trouble them since no manner of empirical review touches their disrespect for the public…but I digress.

A year later the minister responsible, Madden, provided this conversion of Brumby's don'ts into do's in a ministerial epsitle. I have added some glosses for his key terms. These suggest the inappropriateness of the glib generalities on offer.
"The Victorian Government's Respect Agenda is based on three simple ideas. We respect ourselves by accepting and valuing who we are (does this include motor head hoons, financial fraudsters and internet scammers, child abusers and bullies, religious kooks and …? Aren't they are quite likely to accept and value themselves). We respect others by listening, treating people fairly and appreciating different circumstances and views (Listening, appreciating and fairness require shared social practices and values; they can't be grabbed across gulfs of language culture and value differences on demand, but the Minister did try to demand others listen to him in a meeting he wasn't invited to!). We respect our community by welcoming newcomers and lending a hand to each other (Well, it sounds good, but fairly small town to me, having come from on. What does welcoming look like on the streets of a city where smiling at strangers on the street is an invitation to a 'who ya lookin at?' from the passing others)."
And, the principle engine for increasing respect? The schools, actually. Think of the disrespect messages they are competing with!

Respect yourself and others will respect you ~ Confucius
For example, our cat Poppy has injured self-respect. He attempts basic cat respect behaviour - head butting anything of own catty family (watch your local lion pride anytime when they're not eating or sleeping) or anyone having to do with food or pre-heated sleeping spaces (us). But he won't get closer to us than a hand's length away; not a true head butt. It's long been evident that he had a deprived or depraved kittenhood before arriving in our lands. His self-respect is damaged and his respect for others is similarly slightly depleted.

He gets a slight disrespect from me in turn, even though it's not his fault. He's just not entirely there for real respect like a ride on my chest/shoulder almost face-to-face. He can't stand the closeness, and now 14 years later resists my conflicted effort to hold him up for a view and a smoodge. People can be certainly more difficult to respect than he is, though in principle they warrant it anyway as he does.

Observation #1 – Respect is a two way function in a two-way event – a relationship. Respect has to occur with almost perfect timing to prevent it's opposite – disrespect – from rushing in. Feeling respected provides a container of engagement and commitment which allows relationships of all kinds to weather storms of others' making. These others include the gods, other people and sometimes the relationship members themselves (where one is an other for the other, as husbands and wives, the ethnically different and the differently abled always are to some extent!).

Observation #2 – Disrespect, expressed in the now well known verb 'dis', can be the underlying assumption of all relationships for some people. The 'dis' sensibility presumes a likelihood of always being dissed, and probably is fed by feeling largely dissed by life. At the public political level this seems to be what's been happening in the US for the last 5-10 years (or more?) – a culture of disrespect on a grand scale. See the most recent responses of Right pundits to the US health bill.

Lack of respect vs. active disrespect
Observation #3 – Lack of respect, or active disrespect, is one of the most common complaints of couples in trouble (sometimes both members; sometimes just one). While active disrespect provokes more virulent reactions than lack of respect, it also sharpens the perception of the provocative behaviour and attitude(s). Because they are clear, they then become accessible to reworking, or not. The more passive lack of respect carries the flag for disengagement. Those needing a respect injection are usually looking for things like:
Being consulted about what's happening; being listened to, heard and acknowledged when they are contributing to discussion; being given space to speak for themselves; being treated as a person not just a role (husband, wife, caretaker, provider, etc.); being 'just me'- having a life apart from this relationship.
It's not love but probably you can't get love without respect. Or, you can kill love by withholding respect. Disrespect over long time periods for deep needs elicits powerful feelings which, once freed, make recovery of a workably respectful flavour very hard to do.

Observation #4 - Having a "respect agenda" is to misrepresent respect. The problem where respect is absent is how to have a shared agenda of any kind. This cannot be mandated – though power can be used to encourage rather than discourage sharing. Efforts to legislate respect are often dull and indiscriminate. Politically correct behaviours trap as much as they liberate. Readiness is required. See respect attitudes, assumptions and behaviours below

Responsibility and respect
Observation #5 – Appropriately admitting ones responsibility for a perceived error or misstep in a relationship is a good step towards rehabilitating respect in relationships. Doing so demonstrates respect for self and other(s) by setting boundaries and standards for the relationship. As a result, we know what actions will be respectful to members and who may be accountable for making the effort.

Observation #6 – Being self-respecting and other-respecting can be very difficult when we are injured, sick, overloaded, under attack (direct or indirect), etc. Like Poppy, I find it hard under such difficult conditions to respect others (or myself!) when certain levels or styles of self-disrespect are present. For instance, when someone has indulged beyond their personal capabilities in any kind of consumption which threatens others' viability – alcohol, gambling, drugs, food, palliative purchasing (the world of nothing's enough consumerism)…

Observation #7 – One definition of respect has 8 variations with an example phrase for each. There are larger numbers of variations (try the O.E.D. for instance) but 8 are enough to suggest the range of mistakes one could make in trying to be respectful. That's within Anglo cultures!

…and differences
Observation #8 – Within cultures, the entry level behaviours of respect are politeness formulas. These are acts like acknowledging another's presence with actual contact like a handshake or virtual ones like a nod or wave, and then a query about their current state (How's it going, How's your day been, G'day, etc.). Between cultures the same rules apply, but through often unguessable or unrecognisable forms of action. It is easy to bow the wrong amount to the wrong person and insult a monarch, or earn the ire of local morality mavens. Try getting the length of a handshake right without threatening sexual identities.

Back to the agenda
The Maddening Brumby respect agenda adjusted for realities looks like this:

  1. "We respect ourselves by accepting and valuing who we are".
    Adjusted version: The boundaries of respect in our culture are …, and differences about them can be engaged in this way…but some clearly not negotiable at the moment elicit spontaneous gut rejections from others.…and it is important to acknowledge that before anything else is done.
  2. "We respect others by listening, treating people fairly and appreciating different circumstances and views." Adjusted version: Fair treatment (being heard and understood in our differences) for the less powerful in any situation require the more powerful to provide safety, especially on the debatable boundaries, and beyond them, of the respectful. Real differences cannot be simply appreciated because they shock and offend in some cases (your first sniff of black bean sauce may not of course!).
  3. "We respect our community by welcoming newcomers and lending a hand to each other."Adjusted version: make way for new respects by informing the present residents of any space that new arrivals may inadvertently challenge and inform new arrivals what areas of respect will be challenged for them buy their new home. These are notably obvious: intimate relationship expectations and obligations, food choices, public behaviours in gender relations, hierarchy protocols, hygiene, the nature of security services,…etc. Try the DFAT and immigration websites to see what's available to immigrants and refugees as local knowledge.

The third level of respect – community – is the government's main area of responsibility. Only they can do it effectively. Effective means doing it before arrival here. Or at least soon after. In the absence of the fact, sing a little song:
either Otis's or Aretha's RESPECT

..or two, the Staples'
Respect yourself

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