Tuesday, May 24, 2016

That misused word, "respect"

I always thought that Aretha Franklin's hit "Respect" rang false; that is probably because the song is clearly from the male perspective, in this case that of its composer and original performer, the great Otis Redding. When I was in the Army, the first sergeant of one company I was assigned to declared that he respected no man, because it was in violation of  commandment ‘Thou shalt not worship false gods before me,” or something like that. It didn’t make much sense then back then. I suppose he meant, as it applied to him, “respect” the rank, not the man.

However, there are some people who talk an awful lot about “respect” and don’t know a thing about it. For example, I might be wiping down some machinery using a stack of rags I put on a shelf behind me, since there wasn’t any other place close by to put them. When I turned around, they were nowhere to be seen. I made inquiries, and was told that one of the janitors had taken them out of the room. I found one of those big, burly guys with a self-conscious need to extract “respect” from people much smaller than they are, since they don’t perceive it forthcoming from the dominant demographic, He was hiding with the rags in a maintenance closet. I confronted him. Why did he take the rags when he saw that I was using them? He “respected” that, but they were in the way of his janitorial responsibilities, he asserted. Why didn’t he ask me if I still needed them, so to put them out of his way? Why should I ask you?, he said. 

So let me count the ways he showed me no respect: he took the rags even though he knew they were being used at that moment, he took them out of the area completely, he tried to conceal them (likely for his own use), and he disrespected me as a human being (the emphasis, as indicated, was on the “you”). Yet this was the same person who lumbered around daring you to “disrespect” him, with the threat of physical intimidation (although he did “assure” me that he wasn’t going to “kill” me merely for putting the rags where I did). I, on the other hand, was expected to respect his right to disrespect me. 

There are others, of course, who have no use of “respect” at all. This might be a white person who is full arrogance and conceit, and treats those “beneath” him or her like the lowest forms of life on Earth. I pay these ignorant bigots no mind (unless, of course, they are really stupid about it); when they shuffle off this mortal coil, they take their in the end meaningless conceits with them, and the lowest forms of life will have the last laugh on what remains of them. 

There are others, however, are more difficult to ignore. Take for instance your typical donut shop managed by a Southeast Asian. I go in one of these shops, and the proprietor calculates that this is a customer who he doesn’t have to waste perfectly good donuts on; he has the old, shriveled-up ones that he won’t just throw out hidden in the back for “special” customers. I always have to remind myself to pinpoint the donut I want him to give me, or check to see what is hidden in the bag that he gave me and demand a replacement if it is the runt of the litter. It isn’t just the disrespect shown me and my money which is as good as any white man’s, but the realization that one of the faults of this country is that it allows people who barely speak understandable English, and come from homogeneous societies to import more bigotry (as if we don’t have enough of it already), practicing it on a native-born citizen. 

Some people just don’t understand that “respect” is more about what you do than what you say; being raised a Roman Catholic, it isn’t just “faith” that “saves” you, as some philosophies posit, but “good works.” Michael Brown, the man shot by a police officer in Baltimore, a case was another cause celebre for the media, went around demanding that people “respect” him as someone easily offended by any failure to adjust to his intimidations, but did he show respect for that scrawny convenience store clerk he strong-armed and robbed a carton of cigarettes from, because a female companion desired it? Did she “respect” his “chivalrous” act on her behalf? Did he show “respect” for the police officer and his authority by attacking him?  He conducted his daily life proving that he did not deserve to be treated with respect. To be feared, maybe; to be respected, not at all. 

Sometimes I am amazed by the people for whom respect is accorded. Three or four times a week I stop at some fast food joint before I go home, and it never fails that I see a certain individual literally camped out in one of the window seats; he doesn’t look much older than 45.. On one side is this man, whose recent hair and beard cut made him look slightly less disheveled, with a cup of coffee and what appears to be a portable DVD player in front him, and on the other side of the table one of those huge Arctic backpacks, designed to carry the weight of the world (or whatever is needed to stay suitably comfortable day or night on the tundra). Draped over the frame are two winter coats (it is late May at the moment, I think), so I suspect that he carries his entire earthly belongings with him. He also “camps out” in the restaurant the several times I stopped in the morning; however, I believe takes a “break” in order to make his “living.” When I’ve caught him buying his cup of coffee, he typically pulls out a few wrinkled dollar bills balled-up in his pocket, which he must have obtained from the art of acquiring sympathy for his sad situation (or maybe tells people he is a “veteran”).

And apparently this consideration is the case for the employees of this franchise, who have presumably never informed this gentleman than there is a policy about loitering, even for those making the most tepid show of being a paying customer. But what I find even more remarkable is the “respect” the employees show for him; he has become a “regular,” spoken to with reverence, a man of  “experience” to be venerated.  He no doubt has a “story,” although probably one that need not be examined too closely when it is not embellished in the telling.

Alright, yes, the problem of homelessness is real, and the lack of sufficiently livable wages is as well. I have been living on the edge my whole life, but I have come to the conclusion that some people deserve less sympathy than others. I feel less a sense of “sympathy,” than one of mild disgust for this individual. Maybe it is because I have a greater appreciation of “culture,” which  the expansion of my collection of books, old movies and television shows, and music  requires me to have some source of dependable income, and that it is easier to acquire what I want by earning a wage of some sort, rather than “finding,” panhandling or stealing for it. I never “waited” for work to come to me, like many people who sit on their fundament for months living on unemployment checks or the help of social services (if you are an “able-bodied, single male” you are wasting your time there in any case). 

I have never been “unemployed” for longer than a month since I left school. When I attempted graduate school, my day went as follows: I woke up at 6 AM, attended classes from 8 to 3 PM, caught a light rail to a job from 3:30 to Midnight, put on a jogging outfit and ran to the light rail station to catch the last train at 12:30 AM, arrived home and hit the cot by 1:30, and awoke again at 6 AM. I did this five days a week for six months until I told myself that all I wanted to do was write, and this wasn’t any use to me in that regard; so I sold most of my belongings and move to Seattle. I eventually quit doing the route of sending in resumes and sitting around waiting for someone to respond, since the rare times I was asked in for an interview I always seemed to get the impression that the recruiter was expecting someone else. I always found it more useful to pick out one of  a dozen temp work agencies in the telephone book, and would pick one that seemed more “reputable”—and closer by—and I eventually found fulltime work through that process. That I had to accept low-paying work was due mainly to the fact that both I didn’t have any “choice” if I wanted to earn money right away. 

But the “kids” working at the restaurant apparently hold someone like Sir Bum in high esteem,, showing “respecting” his “space” until closing time; perhaps he must be one of those urban “mountain men.” I just call them vagrants who have long lost notion of self-respect; they have no need of it from anyone else.

Now I wonder if that sergeant had a point after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment