Sunday, September 18, 2005

What We Owe Each Other

I finally figured it out. I've been meditating on this question (what do we owe each other?) for a long time, and here are some insights at last:

1. We owe each other respect. What is respect? Respect includes the following: (a) knowing that others have their projects, goals, dreams, and values, and letting them determine those for themselves and letting them strive for them; (b) not assuming that we can accurately read people's feelings and motivations from their behavior, but asking them, if relevant, and honoring their answers; (c) refraining from negative critical judgment and negative moralizing, unless it is very clear that their behavior really did result in harm being done. See 3 below.

2. Respect is the core of love. We owe some people love. Love adds to respect: (a) appreciation and affection, (b) a willingness to be supportive and helpful, and (c) care not to let the willingness to help become a subtle way of trying to manipulate and control the person we claim to love.

3. We must refrain from trying to manipulate and control others. But there are times when we see others' behavior as problematic (such as when they are not being respectful, but instead engage in manipulative, controlling, or even violent behavior towards us or others), and then we owe it to them to call them into account. Sometimes raising their awareness is enough to inspire them to change. ("Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize!" they may say.) Other times, that is not enough: persuasion is called for. In extreme situations, "containment" (from William Ury's book The Third Side), or "protective use of force" (from Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication) or nonviolent action (e.g., Gene Sharp's The Politics of Nonviolent Action) may be called for. These are nonviolent but still somewhat coercive strategies for stopping people from continuing in harmful actions.

Note that this harmonizes nicely with my discussion of "justice" from yesterday.

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