On “Respectful Interface”

Dr. Linda D. Misek-Falkoff of the “Respectful Interface(s)” Programme of the Communications Coordination Committee For the United Nations has honored me with an invitation to express my take on the term “Respectful Interface(s)”. I will, with an almost childlike delight, give it a go.

The phrase, or term, “Respectful Interface”, instantly draws me to the thought that humanity itself ought to be the magnet that attracts and drives all its endeavors. Were this the condition of things, respect would be a given in all our interactions, in all our discourse. Yet, no sooner do I alight on the preceding observation and place the words onto the page when a flaw appears. There is an unintended yet certain arrogance to the composition of my observation. Linking the concept of “Respectful Interface” solely to humanity walks me full-length into the cultural and sociological trap that, unless permanently disabled, will doom us all; it is the notion that all of nature is here to serve us, and we are somehow separate and superior to the whole shebang. Nothing could be further from the truth. My initial observation omits Mother Earth, and, without her, and all that makes her up, we are, in a word, done. While rare is the moment when the behavior mandated by the phrase “Respectful Interface” occurs between people and peoples, rarer still is the moment when it occurs between humanity and nature.

While the dismantling of anything that precludes enacting “Respectful Interfacing” is a must, all will be for naught if there is not a similar dismantling of anything that precludes enacting “Respectful Interfacing” between humanity and nature. Greed and the lust for power are certainly two of the barriers to “Respectful Interfacing”. However, I believe a close look at the very core of those driven by the aforementioned would expose fear as the mightiest culprit, the biggest barrier.

So what is “Respectful Interface”? What does it mean? One definition of the word interface I read says it is a point where two things meet and interact. Another definition says interface is, essentially, interaction.

Before I go on here it dawns on me that I have failed to mention perhaps the most critical place where “Respectful Interface” must apply, and, for the most part, rarely does. In my view it is the most important site where “Respectful Interface” must take place. I am talking about “Respectful Interfacing” with one’s self. If it does not take place there, it is unlikely to flourish and last anywhere; in fact, it won’t.

To my mind, the process of “Respectful Interfacing” requires, and I mean requires, three underpinnings: humility, honesty and strength; real strength, of the courage variety.

The best definition of humility I ever heard came from the mouth of a woman well into her seventies. She said, “Humility is not thinking less of your self, it is thinking less about your self.” Just imagine how different life would be if countries (governments), peoples, people, business, religions and more donned this concept of humility and lived it.

Imagining this possibility leads this essay to the doorsteps of honesty and strength. Of these let me say that I am convinced that neither honesty nor strength can reach the summit of their respective possibilities alone. In truth, one cannot exist without the other.

To honesty:

Legend has it that many years ago an American Indian warrior went to his chief and said, “Chief, I have two wolves fighting inside me, the good wolf and the bad wolf. Which one is going to win?” The chief looked at him and said, “Whichever one you feed the most.” I am convinced that honesty is the number one fuel for the good wolf while dishonesty is the number one fuel for the bad wolf. It seems apparent that honesty breeds and promotes respect, so honesty would have to be present in the process of “Respectful Interfacing”.

Some years back I was in a correspondence with a man, an attorney by trade, wherein I argued against the death penalty and he argued for it. My argument was based, in part, on the fact that there have been and will be instances where an innocent person is executed. He wrote that he understood this, yet felt it was a sacrifice society had to endure in order to combat crime. While I did not and do not agree with him, I was, then and now, impressed with the honesty of his response. I can disagree with, dislike, or abhor another opinion, yet respect the source of the opinion when honesty is afoot. Now, to strength.

Much of the world’s definition of strength rests on an armature of pure myth. Countries, including mine, currently one of the biggest offenders, believe their ability to threaten or inflict violence is a true measure of their strength. Wrong. People are saturated with this strength-myth on all fronts: global, national and individual. The capacity to threaten and inflict violence is a true measure of the ability to destroy, not to preserve. Anyone can destroy, not anyone can preserve. It is the latter, not the former, that requires strength.

Consider the following. In my country and others we are taught, men particularly and women increasingly so, that abstaining from both emotional expression and admissions of wrongdoing, not to mention simple mistakes, is a surefire way of displaying one’s strength. We are taught that walking away from a challenge, walking away from a fight are acts of weakness. Not only are all these messages wrong, they are strikingly easy to dismantle. Watch.

If it is an act of weakness to admit you are wrong, then why is it so hard for you to do? If it is an act of weakness to cry, then why is it so hard for you to do? If it is an act of weakness to admit you are afraid, then why is it so hard for you to do? You get my point. If any of the aforementioned were indeed acts of weakness, they would be easy to do. And they are not. Need more proof? Consider this. Approach a woman in the midst of natural labor and ask her if she happens to be feeling strong at the moment. I would suggest, by the way, that you don’t ask her this within arm’s length because while she is screaming at you that, No idiot, I don’t feel strong! the vice-grip of her hand, or hands, if you are really unlucky, will prove to you beyond a reasonable that she is very strong. Humor aside, I can think of few human events requiring more strength than giving birth to a child.

So what is the lesson here? The lesson is that real strength requires honesty and the ability to endure life on life’s terms, the ability to engage with the world around you with humility, honesty and respect. In short, it is the ability to engage in the courageous and honorable art of “Respectful Interfacing”.

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