Is R-E-S-P-E-C-T m.i.a.?

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a statement often heard and rarely attributed (it’s thought to be an African proverb). For me, as a child in a family of origin separated by divorce, the concept gave people on my home street and my summer home street the opportunity to join my family, along with my teachers and friends, in their version of the village that raised me.

Don Hutchinson

Don Hutchinson

Now, we talk about living in a “global village” but more and more the actions of many depict a small, self-centred world that leaves respect for others, in a bigger village, missing in action.

The transition from village-focus to self-centre was underscored for me in a 24 hour period earlier this week.

On Wednesday I attended a funeral for a friend. This woman was well-loved to the extent that over 800 attended the visitation and over 200 the funeral service. Her family described her lifelong claims to fame as Christian, wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Clearly she had the love and respect of many. However, even with a police escort for the procession to the cemetery, cars tried to overtake, cut across and cut into the line of vehicles with “funeral” signs wedged on the front hood, high beams on and four way flashers going. In a less self-centred, less time obsessed era I learned and experienced that funerals in our village (Toronto) involved a show of respect: standing still on the sidewalk (hat removed) until a procession passed; cars coming from the opposite direction pulling to the curb and waiting as well.

The several occurrences during the short drive from funeral home to cemetery prompted contemplation on the transition of the broader Canadian experience, during my lifetime, from a village or public focus to a self-focus. How else to explain these and a series of other events observed over the course of a single day?

A repeat street annoyance was regular and obvious use of the banned-while-driving smartphone.

Is it selfish to be tapping on one’s smartphone at a stoplight? Is it selfish to honk one’s horn at the tapper who seems not to notice traffic moving around them? The response of the smartphone tapper would seem to indicate this latter action was the true offense!
And then there are the horn aficionados who have readied their hands for the flash of green, honking the instant the light turns regardless of whether the car ahead has started to accelerate.

There was a time in Canada when horns were used when required. Of course, car phones were rare and the focus of drivers was, well, driving.

One woman I was behind so delayed movement at a green light that I was concerned she might have been experiencing a medical emergency. I was actually about to get out of the car, after honking twice, when I saw her place the phone on the dashboard; apparently finished the message that was so important traffic needed to be held as the “msg” was sent from a driving lane on a busy street lined with shopping malls and parking lots.

And what about the guy that screamed up the left lane on a 400 series highway, then slowed below the speed of the car my cruise control had me about to pass? As I passed on his right, because his car had become a traffic obstruction, he had phone in hand while decelerating; oblivious to what was going on around him at 100+ km/h.

The highway rest stop also had its share of “it’s all about me” experiences.

A young man was cursing to the young woman in line with him about how slow the service was at the coffee shop in the food court. She was clearly embarrassed as she tried both to hush him and explain that everyone else was waiting patiently in a first-come-first-serve queue and employees were serving from every cash register at the counter. Still, he grew obviously agitated and increasingly twitchy.

And, there was one of those special people who successfully centred his Lincoln Navigator on the line; thus occupying two parking spaces in the first row at the busy rest stop. Maybe I shouldn’t have noted the smaller car that was waiting to park in one of the spots if he would simply pull into the other. He was visibly displeased with me, although his remarks indicated a lack of observation skills when he insulted both me and the horse he thought I rode in on.

Even watching the news on television it occurred to me that the self of several reporters was being elevated by obvious or subtle disrespect toward the other of their stories. There was a time when main stream media referred to people as Mr., Mrs. or Ms. I wonder, would Canadians have, or share, as strong feelings as are expressed in social media (or the House of Commons) if we still referenced Mr. Harper, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau?

And then, there were the disrespectful and woefully uninformed written words offered to me in response to sharing an informed opinion on social media. Yep, nothing like spouting off an insult to someone you’ve never met without at least search engining the topic (or perhaps the individual).

I won’t pretend perfection or that I lack my own annoying-to-others expressions of self-centredness. But, it occurs to me that, as a society, our willingness to live in the community of individually egocentric worlds and downgrade others from being Mr., Mrs. and Ms. to Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau and “hey you insignificant thing from outside my personal universe” results in a reduction in the essential respect for others that is required to live in a shared society, a common “civil”ization.

The “villages” of my childhood may be long gone. The global village we hear about may seem a myth, given the continuing conflicts that exist and the way we speak about world leaders (and they speak about one another). R-E-S-P-E-C-T may seem missing in action in the neighbourhoods of our nation as “my house,” “my car,” “my time” and “my (little) world” become the focus of life. But none of us is an island. It’s still a village, whether local or global. Each one of us chooses for ourselves whether or not to engage others with the respect that acknowledges the space on planet Earth is shared; shared with people we would likely hope will respect us too.