“Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' is a 'battle cry' for women,” declared Fox News, and it continues to be that for others decades after those tumultuous 1960’s: study masses of protestors in our capital demanding respect for women, science and civil rights; listen to parents pleading for their children at the border; see an athlete taking a knee. These are all signs of our continued struggle for respect of the rights and dignity of others.

“Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' is a 'battle cry' for women,” declared Fox News, and it continues to be that for others decades after those tumultuous 1960’s: study masses of protestors in our capital demanding respect for women, science and civil rights; listen to parents pleading for their children at the border; see an athlete taking a knee. These are all signs of our continued struggle for respect of the rights and dignity of others.

 

The fact that peaceful protests by members of a frustrated, alienated minority inspire scorn from self-styled “patriots” underscores the lack of understanding they have; respect for the dignity of ALL human beings is every bit as crucial for our democracy as is respect for our flag.

 

Democracies function best in a civil society where citizens understand how to empathize with others by imagining “walking a mile in another man’s moccasins.” This quote, often attributed to various Indian tribes, is part of the poem “Judge Softly,” written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895.

 

“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps, 

Or stumbles along the road.

Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears, 

Or stumbled beneath the same load. . . .

 

“Don’t sneer at the man who is down today

Unless you have felt the same blow 

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know. . . .

 

“Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.

Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.

Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,  

And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains”.

(aaanativearts.com)  

 

Our current divisions are not a brutal, literal war between states, but rather a clash of ideas and ideology between those who put people first and those who don’t (those who favor profits, institutions, forced patriotism, etc.) Our President, who should be trying to heal these breaches, further divides and manipulates us with his own war of words and tweets. 

 

Our Founding Fathers would find his attacks on the press and freedom of speech unconscionable: 

GEORGE WASHINGTON: “the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

JOHN ADAMS: “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of the state.” 

THOMAS JEFFERSON: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

 

Democracies demand an educated and tolerant populace, the free-flow of information and at least a two-party system to function. Ideas become stale and government becomes oppressive if one party is dominant for too long. Few of us would prefer the autocratic government of Turkey or Russia, a direction in which we are heading unless we support ideas from many and respect each other.

 

At both the national and the state level the best solutions are usually compromises with neither side totally happy. A democracy CANNOT function when one side insists on “its way or the highway,” and candidates with that mindset could eventually doom us.

 

To complicate matters, there are not just two political views—the conservative and the liberal, as some would have us believe. If that were true, the Freedom Caucus could not stalemate a Republican-dominated legislature as they have done a number of times. Liberals are no less divided. One can be a social liberal and still aspire to the once conservative view that government should limit debt, rather that increasing it, as the current Congress has done.

 

Consider John McCain’s advice: “Let’s trust each other, let’s return to regular order,” meaning true bipartisan government and working across the aisle together. He's an American hero who embodied civility and respect not only in politics, but in the way he led his life.

 

 

Catherine Rhoades writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.