What are the forces that erode respect in modern society? Respect can be gained by attaining success, developing talents, financial security or by helping others. There are, however, many others who are not able to adhere to the demands of todays meritocracy and loose esteem. I share the belief that we are living in a world where there is a loss of respect and I think that we contribute to this serious cultural problem in many different ways.
In this debate and discussion I have had a guide in Richard Sennett ( Respect Penguin 2003). Part biography, part philosophy and part politics the book analyses these questions with considerable skill. From his childhood in a poor part of Chicago he uses his experience to dig deep into these human realities. What are the ways that we can forge bonds that can tackle inequality? Why is it that so many people seem unconcerned about the poverty in their society?
There is a rugged individualism to all this debate for Sennett:
‘Self formation is not about following a recipe. Religion, family and community set the scene but one has to write the script for oneself’ (p54). Sennett argues that we earn or fail to achieve respect by:
- Self development – particularly through the nurture of abilities and skills
- Care of the self especially in today’s world the exercise of self control!
- Care of others
Sennett is realistic:
‘Even if all unjust inequalities could be removed in society, people would still have to face the problem of how to shape their worse and better impulses….’ (p101). He challenges his readers to action – to perform and enact respect. I wonder what this might mean for a community like Temple Balsall?
His conclusion is worth pondering:
In society, and particularly in the welfare state,the nub of the problem we face is how the strong can practice respect towards those who remain weak (p 263)
That is our shared challenge.