Monday, August 20, 2007

Peace and Respect For Others

In an 1867 speech to the burgeoning Republic of Mexico, Benito Juarez, soon to be President, stated: "The people and government must respect the rights of everyone. Among individuals as among nations, peace means respect for the rights of others." How true that is, and how sad that respect for the rights of others seems so absent from our society today. For me, that's a source of constant culture clashes -- trying to reconcile myself with the world of today vs. the world I grew up in and often still wish it was.

People are so divided these days. They don't see shades of grey, just black and white, and you can't be both. You have to choose one or the other. Liberals malign Conservatives as bad people. Conservatives malign Liberals the same way. I rarely find it so simple to line things up. I am a Conservative, but in my younger days I leaned more Liberal. Where that leaves me today is somewhere in the middle. I embrace the biblical traditional values that seem to out of fashion these days. I still believe that living together outside of marriage is wrong, that divorce is tragic, that abortion is murder, and that lying is a character flaw. And there are many more. These make me an odd-ball, it would seem, from looking at the world around us.

How many people expect honesty from others? How many people are truly disappointed and upset when they don't receive it? How many practice it they way they want it to be practiced by others? Most people seem to prefer it for themselves from others, but not want to offer it from themselves to others. Living together outside of marriage and divorce have become the norm. Abortion seems to be the only one that still draws strong debate. Why?

In my opinion, there is less and less a sense of community and responsibility toward one another, and more of an every man for himself climate in this society today. And it is destructive to all of us. Maybe it's just that the most polarized people have the loudest voices or talk the most. Maybe the rest of the moderates, like me, are so shocked by what they see, they don't know what to say or where to begin to respond to it.

For example, I am Republican, but I favor gun control. I also favor more government care for the needy, funding for education, and fairer taxes for lower income vs. favored taxation for higher income. However, I am against gay marriage, and I am against abortion. But I do not believe in bombing abortion clinics or beating up gay people (nor discriminating against them in other ways). I also believe personal beliefs have a place in politics. That's why it matters a great deal to me what a candidate believes. And why I laugh when candidates campaign on their beliefs then deny that they will unduly influence their decisions in office. I say if you really believe something, it will always influence you. A man who claims belief in things and then fails to have that belief influence his decisions is a man with no integrity and nothing to offer (no to mention, confused about his own beliefs).

My own beliefs are complicated and have evolved over a long period of life experience, education, travel, etc. Being an adopted child, born of date rape, certainly influences my view on abortion, for example. Being well educated, influences my belief in the importance of education. My work with the poor around the world, influences my belief that taxes should not penalize those who can least afford to pay them, and that those with more wealth need to do more to help provide for those less fortunate. My belief in Christ influences my belief that violence and murder are not the way to defend your positions, and provide no high moral ground, but at the same time, I believe Sadaam Hussein needed to be removed from power and Al Quaeda needs to be fought like the enemy to all people it truly is.

Other people have had different experiences, such as my wife. And that's okay. We don't have to agree on everything, as long as I feel respected. And that's the rub. Too often, there is no respect these days for people of different beliefs. Maybe that's why the world feels like an unpeaceful place. Why hate seems more and more common, and public critiques of others seem more and more hateful and hurtful. People see no reason to mince words for those who embrace opinions they find completely abominable. The KKK and American Nazi party and others should welcome this change. They no longer seem so radical. They no longer have to feel outcast. Everyone else is speaking hateful things about people they disagree with, right?

The more I have thought about this the more I have become convicted that we have to get back toward the way things used to be if we are going to get back to a sense of peace in our society. Where there is no respect, there is no peaceful coexistence. And I don't know about you, but I like peace.

For what it's worth...

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