With all due respect to others’ self-respect, we care about our own respect, and not much else. Disrespect toward others can lead to conflicts, violence, political paralysis (look at the Israeli political system), and even wars. Offending someone’s respect renounces and even invalidates someone’s being. To many people, this can be worse than death. It is an intolerable feeling.
However, there is a good reason why respect is so important to us. Respect means that I have value, that I am worthy. While people will go a long way to retain their respect, they will also avoid many misdeeds for exactly the same reason. The expression “I will not stoop to your level” means exactly that—that I will not dishonor myself the way you are dishonoring yourself. In other words, maintaining respect not only sends us on wars; it also makes us restrain ourselves and avoid doing harm. In this way, respect can make us correct ourselves, and through our correction, correct society.
There is another advantage to having respect. We cannot truly sympathize with others, except perhaps with those who are truly close to us like family or close friends. However, since we have self-respect, and we know that everyone has it, we can appreciate what others feel if they are hurt or humiliated. This ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes can prevent us from hurting other people’s feelings.
At the same time, it is precisely this point that I can press in order to check my limits in this world. I may, for example, tease people or offend them a little (or more than a little) in order to test my boundaries or test other people’s confidence and strength. If they are weak, I will “expand my territory”; if they are strong, I might consider retreating. Therefore, respect can prevent violence by relinquishing something emotional rather than risking physical injury.
The problem is that over time, we are growing so narcissistic that it is becoming difficult for us to relinquish our pride. People are becoming so sensitive that anything that someone says feels like stepping on someone else’s toes. As a result, we try to stay so polite, and politically correct, that we lose our ability to express our thoughts, even when we have no intention to offend anyone. The exaggerated sensitivity of our egos is paralyzing the world and infests our connections with suspicion. If we continue in this way, we will end up with a violent explosion; war is inevitable unless we escape from the grip of our egos.
The only way to escape from our egos is to consciously make room for others, and they for us. It has to be multilateral. Our egos will still strive to feel that they are kings of the world, but they will only be able to achieve this if they are all kings. Otherwise, it is doom for everyone. Either we are all on top of the world, or we all hit rock bottom.
Inevitably, we are becoming increasingly connected and dependent on each other. Even our growing egos, which strive to feel superior to others, have to feel others, above whom they can feel superior.
Therefore, because we are inescapably connected, we must make our connections work for us, or our mutual hatred will destroy us. We must learn to make room for everyone, so they can make room for us. If we work this way, we will all win. If we don’t, we will all lose tragically.
[REUTERS: Turkish President Erdogan meets with European Council President Michel and European Commission President von der Leyen in Ankara]