What do you respect?
Something happens, and it upsets you. Why? We often believe we know the reason. But we often don’t know the whole story. Because we operate on assumptions without first asking the right questions. Even when dealing with ourselves.
Learning to ask the right question is a key element to critical thinking. I plan to discuss it quite a bit in the future. But in light of reactions to recent events, I decided to start now.
Fair warning. This article was prompted in the wake of Charlottesville. But it is less about Charlottesville and more about some of ripples created by the events of August 11 and 12.
On Tuesday, August 22, I saw reports about two of those ripples. The first was some steps the Charlottesville mayor would like the Virginia legislature to take. The second was about Cleveland Browns players kneeling in a huddle during the National Anthem.
In reaction to both, I saw people flying off the handle. And I wondered if any of those folks had asked themselves what had actually made them so mad. What was the true source of all that anger?
What the Mayor Asked
In the case of the Charlottesville mayor, there was a request that local communities be given more power to decide what to do with their Confederate monuments. And also to be allowed to ban firearms from public assemblies if they pose a security risk. There were other things too, but let’s just stick with those two. As you might imagine, that second one had lots of folks riled up.
Let’s look at the first request though. My guess is that it was prompted by the lawsuit filed against the city after the vote to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Need some context? The officials elected by the citizens of Charlottesville held a meeting in February, 2017 to discuss a proposal that the statue of Robert E. Lee be removed from a centrally located park also named for Robert E. Lee. There was no proposal to destroy the statue, just move it to a different park. The meeting was public. Many citizens came to argue for keeping the statue where it was. Others to argue for the removal. In the end, the city council voted 3 to 2 to move the statue from Lee Park to McIntire Park. This was not the first debate or vote on the subject. An earlier vote was deadlocked. And there had been months of public discussion prior to that.
Interestingly, the council then voted on a proposal to rename Lee Park. The vote to change the name to Emancipation Park was unanimous.
Anyway, there is apparently some question as to the city’s legal authority to decide to move its Confederate statues under state law. Let that sink in for a bit. I haven’t looked into the details of Virginia state law to explain why. But the question was enough for some folks to file a suit against the city to prevent the statue’s move.
I do know some other southern states have laws limiting or, even, preventing the removal of Confederate statues. For example, remember the statue in Durham, North Carolina that some people pulled down? Under North Carolina law, the city of Durham apparently has no ability to decide for itself what should be done with it. If the statute is a Confederate one, it has to stay up no matter what the citizens of Durham may want. Which may explain why the crowd chose to just pull the statue down themselves.
By the way, I am not excusing destruction of public property. What happened in Durham was clearly against the law. That’s mob rule. I find that kind of thing dangerous.
But back to Charlottesville. A suit was filed against the city for choosing to move a Confederate statue. And while things are in the courts, the city can’t move on moving the statue. As it were.
So, I can see why the Charlottesville mayor might urge the state legislature to move the process along for other cities, if not for Charlottesville. Especially in the wake of the recent protests.
But the fact that the mayor has to ask raises some problems for me. Isn’t being able to self-determine a big American ideal? What do you mean a local community can’t decide for itself whether its own public statues should stay or go? That doesn’t seem right to me.
Are you one of the people upset by the removal the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville? Have you asked yourself the right questions about that? Have you tried to figure out what about it truly upsets you?
A lot of what I hear about this issue boils down to different areas of “respect”. So, what do you “respect” when it comes to this issue? What types of respect are important to you? What types do you discount?
And in all of that, where do you place your respect for the community’s wishes? Did you even consider those wishes at all? If a community has lawfully decided that something should come down, have you asked yourself why you feel you have a stake in it?
I am not saying you can’t have a stake in it. I am not suggesting you can’t be upset. Just know why you are upset. The decision in Charlottesville did not come from the federal government. It did not come for the state government. It was a decision by the Charlottesville government.
Maybe you question the political affiliation of the Mayor and Vice-Mayor. If I recall correctly, they are both Democrats. Don’t quote me on that, though. But if you question the right for a decision to be made simply because the city elected a Democratic mayor, then, likewise, others have a right to question decisions made at state and federal levels by duly elected Republicans simply because of the party they belong to.
Most elected officials have party affiliations. They are not disqualified from making decisions just because you don’t agree with the party. Besides, the community knew that party affiliation before it elected the official. Clearly the community does not have a problem with it. In other words, party affiliation is no reason to discount decisions made by community elected leaders. It is no reason to get upset. It is no real basis to not respect a community’s decision.
Thus, party affiliation should not be a problem. Maybe you question the motives and the 3-2 vote. That would be a fairer question. Have you looked into it? Did you even know it was a 3-2 vote? Do you even know the alleged motives and inspiration for the vote? If not, then no, that is not why you are upset. They were nothing you knew about at the time you got upset. Maybe when you check into them you will believe you have more reason to be upset. But that is not what was upsetting you in the first place.
See what I mean about asking the right questions. Did you ever ask yourself what the community wanted? How about what would be best for the community? Did you instead make assumptions without even considering the community? When we don’t ask the right questions, or even any questions at all, we end up forming opinions without accounting for key factors. We can get upset without having a good reason to be. And then we fly off the handle, make poor decisions, get defensive, yell at people, maybe even through a punch or two. When maybe we did not have a basis to be upset in the first place.
I speak from experience. Well, not the punching part. But you get my drift.
Let’s go back to the Charlottesville mayor’s second request. You know the one. It’s got Second Amendment concerns written all over it. But did you ask yourself which of these two things bothers you more: The idea that communities might have limited say in what they have to keep on public display? Or the idea of limiting guns?
Most of the people I ran into on August 22 were far more upset by the proposed gun control. Violation of Second Amendment Rights here we come. That is definitely a cause for concern. But if you are upset about the possible violation of Second Amendment Rights then you should also be concerned with the violation of a community’s rights to decide for itself, shouldn’t you?
It is possible to be concerned with both. If you aren’t, have you asked yourself why? Why does one merit your respect and the other doesn’t? Why is the threat of gun control more important to you than the self-determinism that the Second Amendment was designed to protect?
Let’s look at it the other way around too. If you are more concerned about the community’s right to have a say about statues, why aren’t you concerned about Second Amendment rights? I mean we are taking about Constitutional rights here. It’s a slippery slope. If someone has a right to carry a gun in public legally, whether via open carry or concealed carry permits, why shouldn’t he or she be allowed to take it to an assembly? How would anyone ever be able to know that an assembly will get dangerous? How would anyone be able to judge that guns were okay this time, but not that other time? We live in a society that says people are free to carry guns. That means there is an assumption that folks with guns don’t generally just go shooting at the slightest provocation. That fact doesn’t change simply because there is an assembly of people. In fact, despite a large number of guns, gun violence was not the issue in Charlottesville. There is no way to draw that line that won’t eventually creep into a serious infringement of rights. If you respect free speech and freedom of assembly, shouldn’t you also respect the right to bear arms?
If you have a problem with one, so too with the other. And if you don’t, have you asked yourself why not? Why is one worthy of more respect than the other?
The answer is not necessarily simple. But getting to that answer will tell you a lot more about what you truly value and believe than a bunch of assumptions will.
What the Players Did
Another ripple was the kneeling by Cleveland Browns players during the playing of the National Anthem. They huddled in a circle and knelt with heads bowed. They described it as a moment of prayer. One played explained, “There’s a lot of social and racial injustices going on in the world right now. We were just praying for everyone… We’re all human at the end of the day, and we just have to come together at times like these. It was just us being together, a bunch of teammates praying for the world.”
But many people I ran into did not like what they saw. “I can’t respect them.” “What a bunch of disrespectful bums.” “I will never watch them again.” “They are all scum.” “They were praying, my a$$.” And so on. A lot of very angry reactions. A lot of people blowing their tops.
Folks have a right to see things differently. But if you are one of those who got angry at the kneeling players, have you asked yourself what you are so upset with?
Here comes that word “respect” again.
Personally, I respect the right of the community to decide for itself what to do with monuments. That means if the community says a statue should stay up, up it stays. That means if the community says it comes down, down it goes. Regardless of whether I personally like the idea of a statue being up or not. I respect the community’s right to decide for itself.
I respect the right to own and carry guns. There are various reasons that right was added to the Constitution. Maybe some are outdated. Maybe they will never be outdated. But the right is there. It is a legal one, long upheld. I respect it. I respect that people exercising that right are not violating the law. They are allowed to carry those guns. I do not want that being infringed upon willy-nilly. I don’t want to start going down that slippery slope. So, whether I personally disagree or agree with a need to carry guns, I respect the right to do so.
Similarly, those players have a right to kneel. Whether you disagree with the reason or not, have you asked whether you respect the right to kneel? Or is that what’s bothering you?
Need some more context? People are not required to stand or salute or put their hands over their hearts when the National Anthem is played. It is suggested and considered appropriate to do so, but not required.
Specifically, 36 U.S.C. §301 tells us “should” not “must” when it talks about standing for the National Anthem. Trust me, in legal terms, that word choice is a big deal. That is deliberate. If it was supposed to mean “must” or “required”, those words would have been in there instead. But they aren’t. Why not? To not infringe on freedom of expression. Another big deal. Another major right.
Therefore, the players are not required to stand. They have the right to exercise their freedom of expression. What they did is chose to make a statement by kneeling. Kneeling with bowed heads is not a sign of disrespect. And for those who seem confused on the subject, trust me. Some folks do kneel and pray. In fact, some do it frequently. Just ask a Catholic. But even take prayer out of the equation. Kneeling is still one of the most respectful gestures you can make. Kneeling is supplication, penitence, submission. It is respect squared.
So, is the problem that the players exercised a right in a respectful manner? Because if it is, that does not seem like a basis fly off the handle. It’s perfectly allowable. To be mad at that is to be mad at basic rights, like exercising free speech or gun ownership.
Let me put this another way. I respect the right of white supremacists to march in Charlottesville. I respect their right to carry torches and chant “Jews will not replace us” or “Blood and Soil”. Because that is free speech. That is peaceable assembly. They have a right to do that. I utterly respect that right and want to protect it. Just like I want it protected for me.
I live in a republic. I do not require everyone to think like I do. Those of differing opinion, even those espousing hate and intolerance, have to be allowed to speak. If the entire nation decided to go in a direction I thought completely wrong, I would still respect the right to do so. That’s how a republic is supposed to work. I would, however, still have the right to speak out against that direction.
I want that right preserved. I respect it. I revere it and the free dialogue it encourages for all citizens. But that means it has to apply to everyone.
That’s where the rubber meets the road for us as American citizens. When something difficult comes along. Like Charlottesville. There are some key principles I, as an American, should be willing to stand up for, right? Freedom of speech. Freedom to peaceably assemble. Freedom of expression. They need to be for everyone, not just for some. And I need to be able stand up for them. Period. Not just when it’s easy. Standing up for them when it’s hard? That’s when I know I truly am standing up for them. That’s the true test.
Do I respect the right of white supremacists to march in Charlottesville? Absolutely. But I don’t respect their ideology. That’s what upsets me.
Which brings us back to kneeling for the National Anthem. If you have a problem with those Cleveland Browns players, have you asked yourself the right question? What is it that you truly disrespect about what they did? Their exercising a right to make a statement in a respectful manner? Or the underlying ideology?
In reality, what is upsetting should be the ideology, right? Because we should be standing up for the principle, even if we don’t like the ideology. Only in this case, having issues with the ideology is kind of the problem, isn’t it? The ideology is “Let’s not be racist” and “Let’s pray for everybody”. Pretty hard to be upset with that, right? I am pretty sure you don’t consider yourself racist. I am definitely not calling you one.
But, since, I assume, you are not a racist and you believe in freedom of expression, why is this so upsetting to you? What are the real reasons this is a problem for you?
Where to Go from Here
See what happens when we don’t ask ourselves the right questions? We end up going down paths without knowing what they really mean. What they really amount to. We don’t mean to. But we do.
Those who lead us down those paths don’t care. Sometimes it’s not even deliberate. It’s just what everyone has been saying all along. Because most of us don’t ask the right questions. Most of us don’t stop and say, “Wait. What is really going on?”
I know. I have been down that wrong path many times myself. All because I did not ask the right questions. Or stop to ask questions at all. And I have been very grateful for those who stopped me and pointed out questions I had not asked myself. In answering them, I got myself back to where I wanted to be.
And that’s all I am doing here. No accusations. No sweeping judgments. I don’t know you personally. I have no right or desire to judge you. I don’t want to dictate what you should think or how you should feel.
But you owe it to yourself to make sure you ask the right questions. If you have intense anger or frustration over something, why? Where is that coming from? And what is really at the root of it? What is it you respect? What is it you disrespect?
Need some guidance? Start when you get really upset at something that happens or something someone says. Ask yourself why you feel that way.
What really bothers you? Is it because you feel wronged? Hurt? Defensive? Righteous?
Try breaking down what happened into smaller parts like I did in this article. Look at each one individually. Is it this part here that made you upset? Why?
Step back a bit and try to look into what that action or set of words truly means? What is the full context? What are the real facts? In that light, does it still upset you? Why? Or is it something else that really is at the heart of why you are upset?
Maybe you feel that something is a problem this time, but may not be in other circumstances. Like how some folks feel about free speech or Second Amendment gun rights. Why? What makes this time different? Why is it exceptional? Is this something where making exceptions is appropriate? If so, how far should that go? How do you know when you have gone too far? How and where should lines be drawn? Should they really be drawn at all?
Ask yourself the hard questions. And give yourself honest answers. No need to feel defensive. The only one you are answering is you.
Challenge yourself. That’s how you avoid being manipulated. That’s how you avoid going down the wrong path.
If you are worried about neo-Nazis marching but not about limits on free speech, why? If you are worried about preserving the First Amendment but not the Second, why? If you are worried about folks exercising their rights regarding the National Anthem, but not the concerns about racism that prompted it, why? Why is one more upsetting than the other? What is it you respect more?
This is not just about racism, or free speech or gun control. It’s about figuring out what you really believe and why you should believe it. It’s as big as checking yourself at the door, before making your grand entrance. It’s as intimate as knowing where you are really coming from. It’s as important as you are yourself. Because the answers to those questions are what really define you.
So, go ahead. Ask yourself.
What do you respect?