When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” he understood that when we take away one’s liberty we have given them a sort of death.
As much as every single person needs to be loved, we also need to be respected. When we aren’t respected we easily begin to feel terribly demoralizing. When we aren’t respected by others who won’t give us our space to feel as we wish and to choose as we wish we become dispirited, disheartened and lose confidence and hope. When we aren’t respected by others, we often feel enslaved and controlled. We stop making choices, waiting for others to make it for them.
Have you ever seen a child who says “I don’t know” to almost anything you ask them? There’s a good chance that there is an adult not too far away who always makes decisions for this child. Not only that, but when the child does make a decision, that adult tells them why their decision is wrong. We don’t really need to look at children, we can find this with adults as well. It’s not very uncommon for someone to repeatedly tell their spouse “I don’t know.” When the other person always insists on making your decisions for you, you reach a point where you stop expressing your opinion. Some people even reach a point of forgetting what their opinion ever was or is.
There is a fear that our child or spouse won’t be the way we want them to be. How do we typically deal with that? We simply put all our energy into making sure that they will be who we want them to be. We tell them how to dress, we tell them what to say, we tell them where to turn and even when to turn, we tell them what they should be doing. We are essentially trying to control them. This is the most demoralizing thing we can do to a fellow human being. They are thinking and feeling beings just like we are. They have the right and the need to express those thoughts and feelings. Every time we try and control someone else’s thoughts and feelings we are disrespecting them.
Respect means giving another person the space to be who they are. Respect means stepping away from the other person because you respect them. You respect their right to be them even though that may be different than you. You respect their right to be them even though they may be diametrically opposed to you. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s our spouse, our child, someone from the other political party or our business competition. When we act respectfully to others we bring more dignity to the world. When we disrespect others we make the world around us a less dignified place.
Who demonstrates respect more than anyone else? The A-lmighty. While G-d has a purpose for every single one of us and counts on us to fulfill the purpose He created us for, He still respects us. He gives us space to make decisions and come to discovering and fulfilling our purpose on our own. He actually created us with freedom of choice. This is the greatest act of respect and dignity that G-d shows to every single one of us. This is the dignity He asks us to show every one of our fellow human beings. Let them make the choice that they wish to make. Unless they are bringing harm upon themselves or others in some serious way, give them the same respect that you want from them. The dignity to be you.
When two people respect each other or a group of people respect each other, everyone feels safe to be who they are and share who they are. Such relationship cultures bring out the best of people and produce loving and peaceful environments. This is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to another person. It’s the gift of letting them know that we support them for being them. It’s the gift of letting them know that they are fine just as who they are. It’s the gift of modeling to them how to respect a fellow human being.
If that’s not enough, it also empowers people to lead responsible lives by making decisions and taking responsibility for them. As long as you are making decisions for someone else they always have someone to blame. The moment you give them the respect and space to make those decisions on their own they begin to lead responsible lives.
This, I believe, is the greatest issue that our country faces today as we stand before an extremely hostile and divisive election. It matters far less who is right than how we relate to those we disagree with. We can and should use every bit of influence that we have to get others to agree with us. However, the moment we use control we are destroying the very fibers that have embroidered our democracy. The candidates are highly significant. Who wins will have a worldwide impact and what has the greatest impact of all is our ability to respect others. There’s a reason why our founding fathers fought to live in the land of the free. It requires an inner fight to quell our desire to take the easier approach controlling others. There’s a reason why we call our country the home of the brave. Only brave people find the strength to respect others who think and feel differently than them.
And it’s very likely that when Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he understood that when we take away one’s liberty we have given them a sort of death.
So next time you’re sitting at a table where a political discussion comes up and you hear views which are different or even diametrically opposed to yours, you will once again get to choose what type of American you want to be. One that gives others liberty or one that gives others death.
The question I leave you with today is, “Will your future behavior demonstrate and genuine belief in our democracy and liberty?”