There’s something to be said for ‘Dignity’. This kinda catch-all word gets commonly defined as ‘someone’s worth for esteem and respect’. Now, ‘esteem’, just by the hissing lingering sound of it, along with its Latin root ‘aestimare’, suggests that its a relatively diffuse phenomenon: drawing a flavour of experience, objection and subjectivity from a vast perhaps gossamer network, the nebulous nodes of which may be people, cultural dictates, personal values, among many other ‘things’. In other words, I think esteem requires a singular experiencing consciousness and a sprawling mass of varyingly differentiable ‘other’ consciousnesses. Even ‘Self-Esteem’ seems like the evaluation of the self by the self as worthy of esteem in accordance with some internalized system of principles.
But ‘respect’! Ah, this gem of a word. An etymological break down reveals that ‘respect’ comes from ‘looking’ (specere) ‘back’ (re).
To respect you, I must be able to look back at you, almost always in search for a reference to make sense of apparently (perhaps even unbearably so) peculiar chaos within myself. You must also reflect something in me, something aspirational. But for that, I must look!
That isn’t all though. I speculate that perhaps to be able to look at someone- again and again- their gaze, their idiomatic ‘reflecting glass’ (depending on whether the light is shining brighter on the inside or the outside, one looks at images blending in differing proportions from one moment to another of forms from either realm) must be sensitive to the same spectrum of colours, capable of a similar range of resolution, that mine is, and therefore, I – the dynamic amalgamation of these colours and resolutions- must feature in the frame too.
‘Looking’ is mutual and shared. We look at each other while looking at each other and everything else we’re looking at- again and again, to make sense, to take root; to find anchorage and insight and tips for navigation.
So we home into a commonly known and uncommonly practised axiom: Respect thrives on mutuality. It cannot be sustained by merely the ‘looking’ and the ‘looked at’ by themselves. So it goes, that respectable people are also respectful people.
We can’t live in a world of dignity if we refuse to look at and be looked at by each other. We’re all accountable, therefore, for the necessary practices of authenticity and curiosity. I think what all this doesn’t mean is that we go about, for the heady experience of being seen, throwing a tantrum on a bad day around people who are gracious enough to hold us but do not deserve the scars we scratch into their skins. Nor does it mean that we become the forever scratched, exhausted, defenceless onlookers.
What that does mean is that in a culture with little (but not nil) discourse about how to cultivate authenticity and curiosity together, the need for a barometer of tolerance is crucial. After all, if respect is a mutually nurtured state then I can’t be the only one labouring over it.
So I have zero tolerance for those who aren’t looking. And for those who are- my eyes are wide open.