If the word that people most associate with America so far is freedom, then the word they talk about most when discussing citizenship is respect. In our discussion, Idil said that ultimately, “Everything comes down to respect” in public life. Amber talked about the idea in a different way. She noted that it seems like it’s “trendy” today to be rude to others, and this trend is a problem. Finally, in Mercersburg, Darla said she was a good citizen because she “treats people with respect and dignity” regardless of their background.
But just like freedom has operated on two levels in my conversations, respect has had several meanings, too. The first type of respect is a set of actions within the community. In this definition, People abide by the laws and don’t harm the community. They pay their taxes, don’t speed, and go to jury duty. These acts aren’t out of service for people like Tom from St. Paul and Tess from D.C. They perform them because they see it as a basic duty – as the “right thing” for our country and their communities. I think this mentality could be called “civic respect.”
In contrast, Amber and Darla describe something closer to social respect. To be a good citizen, one has to treat every individual with a certain amount of dignity. We can’t assume anything about them, or be rude to them, without a good reason to. This deference comes down to how somebody treats the people they actually meet. It’s not about a theoretical community, or someone far away. It’s about how we treat people we see each and every day.
Finally, Idil and Jenna discussed something that probably resembles political respect. Of all the people I’ve spoken with so far, Idil was most skeptical of people of the opposite political leaning. The reason? She feels like they don’t respect her and her rights. In contrast, Jenna was much less skeptical than Idil, in large part because she trusted that at the end of the day, people, regardless of political leaning, respect her and others.
My Thoughts on Respect:
At the end of the day, it makes sense that each of these respects matters to people. There’s nothing more upsetting than meeting someone who doesn’t seem to think that you’re worth their time or that you’re lesser than they. It’s also frustrating to see someone disrespect the community by littering or ignoring jury duty. And of course, if we don’t trust that people who think differently than we respect us as people, how can we ever engage them? The people I’ve spoken with have made it clear: Respecting someone is fundamental to any civic relationship.