Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Campus Climate: Respect

Finally, I was struck by something I heard recently about the campus climate, “we can’t talk to each other as people anymore; we don’t respect each other.” It struck me. It struck me in its hopelessness. It struck me in its simple truth. The argument against it is, “of course that isn’t me, I treat all my friends and professors with respect.” I cannot disagree with that statement; I should hope that we can respect our allies. But can we give strangers that same courtesy? Can we give our ‘enemies’ that respect? Is it possible to treat people as humans regardless of the wrongs and pains they have caused? Do we sacrifice our dignity in acknowledging the irrefutable mantra of our liberal arts education, that all people deserve love and respect? Everyone has dignity. Everyone is a human. And for me to be consistent in my beliefs and not feel like a hypocrite, I must always give someone the basic courtesies that every human holds. I will always do unto others as I would have done unto myself. There is no limit to my capacity for basic human respect.

This is not an easy thing. Real respect does not happen everyday, every moment, to everyone. Real respect takes time and many people struggle to find it. I have many burdens that I carry with me; I have much pain in my life. And I acknowledge my truth. I acknowledge that I have been wronged, and that I have wronged people back. I acknowledge that I myself am a human and I can cause a lot of pain. I acknowledge that pain abounds in a world of unsaid hurts. And I take that and I try to give it back. I request that my dignity be upheld, that my reality is acknowledged, and my needs are met. And then I open up to my offender’s humanity. I open up to the world of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean I condoning, forgetting, revenging, or condemning. It is acknowledging the harms that have been caused and making a concerted effort, without expectation, to heal those wounds. It is difficult and takes a long time. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. And I wake up every day to start the process again. I give back the harms caused. I try to rectify the frayed relationships, I give people respect.

Because after all of this, we are still humans. And humans don’t always do right or good. Sometimes they do not do right by me. And I try to forgive that. I try to give my offenders their humanity, I try. And I don’t feel like a lot of this campus is trying anymore. I feel like many have given up—it is hopeless. Skidmore is an opportunity to make the world the place we want to see. We are closer to the world of what ‘should be’ than many of us would like to believe. And every day I try, using the tools at my disposal to get us a little closer. So I ask: if we treat our friends as humans, why can’t we treat everyone else that way? If our humanity is inalienable, what gives any of us license to diminish that in any form, or in some cases remove it, from another human?

Of course my statements are controversial. Of course I cannot fulfill them everyday all the time. But I will try as best I can everyday. And I will look at my actions critically. I will ask about things that may hurt. I will do what I can to clarify everyone’s experiences. I will do my best to forgive transgressions upon me. I will do my best to ask forgiveness when necessary. I will be fearless.