Respect Is The Starting Point For Society

Debate is at the heart of a democracy. Discourse is what fuels growth in any organization.

When our aim is to silence one another rather than to discuss or challenge with dignity and respect, it’s a sign that society is beginning to fail.

Ikhlasul Amal

In the United States, President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was recently deleted by an unnamed, disaffected employee for 11 minutes. It was the employee’s last act before voluntarily leaving the company. Some called for the employee to win the Nobel peace prize. Whatever your politics, the situation was frightening. This is not Nobel prize worthy. For Twitter to be in a position of power to silence a sitting U.S. president speaks volumes to the issue of ensuring each of us remains open to debate and discourse. At a minimum, each of us must have the tools in which to do so.

But President Trump is not helping the situation either. He too is guilty of diminishing the importance of open dialogue. He too is a culprit of forgetting the core values needed for a healthy society.

His own mercurial Twitter feed exemplifies my point.

Trump repeatedly denounces the opinions of others, refers to elected officials and journalists by derogatory and divisive names, and attempts to minimize ideas that are not his own by twisting truths into lies. (e.g. climate change) When members of his own cabinet propose alternate ways in which to handle situations, rather than being respectful and listening to the idea, Trump uses threats to counter-punch.

Secretary of State Tillerson provides a prime example. Most recently he has been tasked with stick-handling the bombastic file that is North Korea. Trump’s confidence building leadership is to suggest it’s unlikely that Tillerson will even finish his four-year appointment term. That’s not being open. It’s sociopathic, closed-minded and egregious.

In Canada, the governing Liberal Party’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, has been repeatedly called “climate Barbie” by members of the media outlet, The Rebel, including its founder Ezra Levant. A political opponent of McKenna, Conservative Gerry Ritz, had the audacity to use the same derogatory term in a tweet. The intimidation tactic did not phase Minister McKenna.

She fought back admirably with verve. But the aim of Levant, Ritz and others is to silence McKenna. Their real quest is to mute her. It won’t happen but it also will not inspire other women and men from getting into politics in the first place. This is when democracy, debate and discourse is lost. These are the acts of silencing future generations.

Citizenship is defined as having membership in a community. Democracy is a community. Our organizations are a community. Society is a community. We cannot silence members of the community. Our aim must not be to hush what others bring to the table of possibility. It has to remain an endless feast. Our democracy and our organizations deserve the opportunity to review the thoughts of everyone.

When we silence we kill democracy. When we bully we destroy our organizations. When we stop listening we ruin society.

Respect for the opinion of others is the starting point for society. At this point in time in 2017, it seems to me as though our respect for the opinions of others is spiralling out of control.

The first values-based meteorite crashing to earth is respect for debate and discourse.

We need to do better.


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3 comments on “Respect Is The Starting Point For Society”

  1. Hi Dan
    Thank for a wonderful blog post! I am very interested in your views of democracy, discourse, opinion and respect and whilst I probably agree with you in essence I hope this might add to the discussion, even if it is just my opinion!
    You are right that democracy is a community – a very specific one. Indeed in ancient Greek times where the term was born it referred to citizens only and left out huge numbers of slaves who had no voice at all, let alone an opinion. And if you were lucky enough to be one of the great orators you could still lose your life for saying the wrong thing – as Socrates did.
    But that is by the by… discussion was born because of the principle of what we see as democracy.
    The main point is whether you regard twitter or any social media as a platform for discourse/conversation or mere “opinion”?
    Others would regard twitter as a place “where conversations go to die” [] and just a platform to get attention – much as Donald Trump does.
    But do we need to listen or respect opinion if it does not open the way for discussion? Should we respect the opinions of racists, sexists and extremists who are not open to discussion? Where do we start or stop? Are all opinions the start of the kind of society that we wish for? Why should we listen to or respect abhorrent opinions?
    Where should the discussion begin?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Marie-Louise, thanks for stopping by.

      There are a lot of questions in your comment. Perhaps I’ll have a longer bike ride, and put all of them to a proper incubation.

      For now, let me state that respect can come in the form of being open to a discussion. One way monologues–as much of Twitter and other platforms succumb to–may not amount to a discussion rather a disrespectful, one-sided opinion. I’d eliminate from this particular thesis those that are racists, sexists or extremists as I don’t think they pass the first test which is to be respectful.

      The discussion begins when we seek to be dialectical. As you point out, the Greeks were renown for sharing opinions and having discussions (in the Agora, no less) which gave birth to the concept of dialectics. (Discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.)

      The Greeks weren’t perfect (hemlock was not Socrates friend) but they were onto something.

      When we’re respectful and open to a dialogue, a conversation, a discussion, perhaps we’re improving upon the Greeks’ first foray into dialectics.

      One can only hope.

  2. Thank you Dan – I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Yes, perhaps we are perfecting that first foray in to the version of dialectics that Socrates pursued in his quest for “truth” through discussion and logical questioning (lots of it!)! But it proved to be a dangerous mission for him.
    The Ancient Greeks might not have been perfect but the legacy of 200 years (or less) of their greatest period continues to influence western thought and culture over two thousand years later. A lot of respect!
    Thanks again

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.