Respect is about oneness, love: just do the right thing

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 17, 2012

“Clap, clap, clap!” wrote Ontario coffee companion Marie Suthers about last week’s column on respect, not pity, as the basis for responsible humanitarian outreach by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations).

Marie’s not alone. Here’s a small sample of the many well-considered responses from our other readers:

“Respect holds true for all of our relationships, be it professional, social, or domestic,” writes Alberta author/mountaineer Ken Wylie. “We have to be careful how we help others.”

Several of our readers expressed their special distress over the negative impact of misguided religiously motivated help among Canada’s First Nations.

Stoney Nakoda Elder Tina Fox writes: “All too often, some church people seem more judgmental towards those they consider to be or to have less than they because somehow they are lazy, etc. Respect is the foundation of our beliefs. Wazin îchinabi, ‘oneness,’ is what respect is about. We are one with Creator, our fellow men, the four-leggeds, and all of creation.”

One Cochrane couple who have tried to put this oneness into practice are Jo and Smokey Seidel. Smokey, who defines himself as an atheist, began volunteering regularly at the Stoney Nakoda food bank when the Morley community was experiencing a financial crisis. He writes:

“Every Stoney person working there asked us what church we were from. Eventually after many explanations that Jo and I weren't from any church, that we had just come to help out because we'd heard they needed extra help, they accepted us for who we were – friends, not more Christian ‘do-gooders.’

“What I find particularly insensitive is when people now go to undertake some sort of good works with native peoples under a Christian banner. Given the damage already inflicted on these people by church agencies, it seems to be adding insult to injury. Why are these members of churches unable to do good things simply because it is the right thing to do, rather than as members of a church?

“Why didn't we stop volunteering at the food bank when the crisis passed? Well, apart from being asked to stay, we came to realise that, despite being atheists, we had to take some responsibility for the damage done by our European ancestors; and at least we can compensate in some small way for the sins of our fathers. We owe them that.”

Along this line, longtime coffee companion Maggie Hodgson, an Alberta First Nations leader in inter-community healing, recommends an important book by Paulette Regan. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada argues for an end to the colonial relationship that has defined much of our shared history. I take Maggie’s recommendation very seriously.

Calgary reader Alfred Unger, a devout Christian who assists disadvantaged folks in northern Mexico, says humility is essential for healing and reconciliation.

“It’s too easy to rob the ones we seek to serve of their own dignity,” he writes. “I am involved in facilitating house building tours to Tijuana. It has been a growing awareness that often in the past we have not been respectful enough – sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through arrogance. It is my continued prayer that we can learn humility as we serve these families as equals. Without this respect, all our ‘service’ is merely condescending self-gratification.”

Sandy McLeod, a Christian businessman formerly of our beautiful Bow Valley who now calls southern British Columbia home, agrees:

“I believe (such disrespect) stems from a ‘winning syndrome,’” he writes. “If the stronger cannot dominate by force those peoples they perceive to be weaker, then they will dominate by humiliating them. It’s easy to diminish others, very, very easy. It’s much harder to be respectful and not to pity. I guess part of the reason it’s harder is because it’s about living the Ten Commandments, to Love as a way of life. Living every day like Jesus did is very, very difficult.”

Cochrane reader Jack Blair provides a guideline for putting that way of life into practice:

“As I focussed on your discussion around respect, I couldn't help thinking about an axiom that my Dad used to remind me of on a regular basis,” he writes.

Here’s Wilfrid Blair’s axiom – his “3 Rs”:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Reasonable

“Take Responsibility for everything you do. Have Respect for others and their property. Be Reasonable in everything you do.”

Jack concluded his note: “I find this, from my Dad who was born in 1897 and died in 1967, to be as relevant today as it ever was.”

I’ll give the last word to Edmonton reader Colleen Chapman:

“Respect = Love.”


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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