by PAJAH WILLIAMS
Respect: is it a virtue, a privilege of some sort that is contingent upon narrow conditions? Is respect something that is simply earned, or are all people entitled to it for the unprejudiced value that human life is endowed with dignity.
I had this debate with a friend a few weeks ago. I had stumbled upon an article about a conservative activist, Phyllis Schlafly, who recently died at the age of 92. Rather than paying respect to her family, the author of this article proceeded to glance over the misfortune of a human being losing her life and instead focused on painting a portrait of Schlafly as a terrible person based upon anti-feminist remarks that she spread while she was living.
With horrid comments such as the following, I concede that Schlafly’s philosophy was revolting:
“It’s really dangerous for a guy to go to college these days. He’s better off if he doesn’t talk to any women when he gets there. The feminists are perfectly glad to make false accusations and then claim all men are capable of some dastardly deed like rape.”
This is one of many anti-feminist beliefs held by the fallen activist. She was a firm believer in traditional gender roles and harshly condemned anyone who deviated from those standards. She spoke hateful words against the LGBT community. Schlafly also held that a woman cannot be raped by her husband, because the union of marriage gives boundless consent to sexual acts, and perhaps the most repugnant of all, she revered Donald Trump as an competent candidate for presidency.
However in spite of her morally objectionable beliefs -- which I do not condone at all -- I am able to see a person, a human being who lost her life. And while death may not be particularly tragic since it is something that is bound to happen to us all, most people are apprehensive toward death, so the subject should be approached with sensitivity. Human life should be honored unto its end without any biases including moral condemnation.
In the same manner, respect should be extended to Brock Turner and his family. The infamous young man who raped an unconscious woman received a very generous sentence of six months in jail for which he only served three. The leniency of this sentence is often attributed to the defendant's wealth, achievement, and privilege as a white man. The controversy has sparked outrage across the country.
Upon his release, Turner’s home was invaded by protesters on his yard, some of them visibly armed with weapons and carrying signs which insight hatred, fear, and condemnation, such as one that read “Castrate all rapists.”
And while these protesters are justified in voicing their opposition to what they perceive to be a miscarriage of justice, their methods have no defensible aim. What happens when they are finished humiliating and labeling the accused? What end are they trying to meet by directing force and intimidation at a person who committed an offense?
Why not protest the system that permitted Brock Turner to get a small slap on the wrist for such a heinous crime? Protest the court or the judge that presided over this decision. If evoking change was the real goal, then those protesters would have directed their efforts elsewhere.
But it was not justice that was on their minds, they were preoccupied by vengeance and punishment which involves dehumanizing a person so that all that they see is his felonious mistake.
Dictionary.com describes respect as “the condition of being esteemed or honored.” All people are entitled to respect because life has inherent value and sentient life possesses dignity. We can respect others while disagreeing with their words or behavior. This can be done by maintaining our opposition without resorting to abuse or disparaging language. We can respect others by advocating for righteousness without dehumanizing and degrading those with whom we are in opposition.
People often withdraw their respect because they disagree with other people’s opinions, beliefs, or behavior. In doing so, they create dissonance within their own sense of morality by allowing a certain prejudice to force themselves to dissolve the element of humanity.
I can sympathize with Phyllis Schlafly's family and pay respect to the life that ceases to exist while simultaneously disagreeing with the philosophy she left behind. For I condemn the hateful ideology and not the woman.
I empathize with Brock Turner in spite of his senseless rape of a woman who laid there unconscious and defenseless against him. I condemn the crime and concede that punishment was far too forgiving. But beneath his horrible decision, there is a human being, a life that matters, and he receives my respect.
Acting immorally does not minimize a person’s worth. Human life is invaluable and for this reason, all people are entitled to respect. When we refuse to grant others respect based upon any prejudices against them, we lose sight of our own humanity and our proneness to behave immorally. In that way, we become self-righteous.