My dear friends,
I have been shouting at the radio again. It was a politician of course, it usually is. In the debate about baseball caps and ‘hoodies’, they had come out with that well-worn phrase ‘respect has to be earned’, and that was when I had started shouting. I know teenagers are scary, I live with two. However, I am not troubled if they wear baseball caps, only if they behave like thugs; until that moment I will treat them with the respect they deserve, and expect to be offered a similar dignity.
Mutual respect has to be the basis of any healthy society, and the offering of respect to others should be free, generous and universal whatever their appearance, age or social rank.
During the dark days of apartheid, in the South African township
of Sophiatown, a black mother-of-five walked down the street with her teenage
son. Approaching them was the tall imposing figure of the local Anglican priest
robed in his cassock. The woman prepared to step off the pavement as was
expected of a black, a mere domestic servant, a nobody. But the priest
pre-empted the move, stepping out into the dusty road himself. And as he passed,
he raised his hat to the woman with the respectful African greeting ‘Molo,
Mama’, the equivalent of ‘Good day, Madam’. It was a simple act, old fashioned
in a way.
Inconsequential you may think, but you would be wrong. The woman’s teenage son would later describe that event as a moment of conversion in his own life. An act of respect had demonstrated the integrity of everything the priest had preached about the Christian gospel and its message of the worth and dignity of all. The teenager was Desmond Tutu, the priest was Trevor Huddleston. Both went on to become great friends, Archbishops and historic figures in the downfall of the old South Africa. But their unlikely friendship had begun with a simple act of respect.
Watch this space. I suspect there is still a lot to come from
politicians about respect; they will talk about schools, shopping centres, the
police and much more. I only hope that more of it will make sense than what we
have heard so far. And perhaps we will hear more about the Christian values of
generosity, hospitality and respect for the stranger. It will save my radio an
awful lot of earache!
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