Recently my Father-in-Law passed away. As I was walking in the cemetery I was suddenly struck that all of a person’s life is summoned up as the date of birth – date of death on the tombstone. All of one’s accomplishments, sacrifices, and mistakes are in the dash. I didn’t see one tombstone that spelled out how a person lived that dash, so I started thinking. How will my friends, family, co-workers and others that have passed through my life remember my dash.
I hope that I leave a legacy of treating people with dignity and respect. That my treatment of others is the first thing people think of when my name is mentioned. Webster’s dictionary defines dignity as a “state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” Often people believe that others must “earn” the right to be treated with dignity: But, I believe that each of us has a moral duty to treat all individuals with respect. This duty is not based on their behavior but on our duty and responsibility.
I am reminded of a story about two politicians in bitter debate. When one became abusive and insulting, the other replied, “Sir, I will continue to treat you like a gentleman. Not because you are one, but because I am one.” It is our own humanity, not theirs, we affirm when we treat all people with respect. We must have the self-control to resist every temptation, however strong, to abandon our better selves by seeking revenge or indulging in pettiness.
To translate the moral principle of respect into action we need to be sensitive to various ways we demonstrate respect for others. Treating people with respect means:
• Acknowledging their essential and intrinsic value as human beings by treating them with courtesy, politeness, civility, and restraint. Conduct intended to abuse, insult, demean, or physically harm any person is disrespectful.
• Acknowledging the principle that the dignity and well-being of all human beings is important and that they should be treated as ends in themselves, not simply as means to achieve the private goals of others
• Deferring to their personal autonomy and their right to the necessary knowledge and power to make informed decisions about their own lives. Unless there are overriding ethical concerns such as kindness or confidentiality, it is disrespectful to withhold information people need and want to control their own destiny. In addition, it is a demonstration of respect to provide opportunities for all people, including maturing children, to have a say in decisions that affect them in material ways.
• Treating their ideas, opinions, and advice respectfully and with due consideration. It is respectful to hear people out, to listen to them, and consider what they have to say with an open mind.
Randel C. Goad Mandt Faculty Supervisor