Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (July 16, 2015)
I love watching travel shows and can spend hours in front of the TV watching others go to exotic places, try exquisite food and meet eclectic people. Even as I am sitting in my living room, I feel like a part of me is with the travel show host in exploring the different places. Some of my favourite shows are the ones where the hosts go to places that are so remote that I have never seen the people, heard of their cultural norms nor eaten their foods before. For example, I once saw a show where the host visited a village where the elders eat the foreskin of the newly circumcised babies at an elaborate ceremony. It completely shocked me but also opened my eyes to the world out there and how there are so many different people in the world, with their different experiences and views.
One particular travel host I’ve watched is Anthony Bourdain and I have to admit that I am not keen on his profane use of language but there is one thing he has said that I agree with and admire:
“I don't have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”
I can choose to still like a person and to show them respect even if they are different to me and do or say things that I don’t agree with. My level of respect or liking for them should not be determined by the level of similarity we have in our views.
As I think about the choices these people make in their own worlds, whether it’s their choice of what to eat, wear, do, sing or celebrate, I’ve come to realise that I don’t have to agree with them in order to respect them. I believe that we should respect others not because they are similar to us but merely because they are human being, worthy of respect.
In a world that’s closer to home, people differ in their political views, religious beliefs, child-rearing methods, relationship styles, language ability, skin colour and many more. And what breaks my heart is that people have let other people’s personal choices determine the amount of respect given to them.
And as an educator, I’ve seen this play out in the relationship with children in the form of bullying. Bullying often takes place when someone is seen as being different and bullying can take the forms of physical bullying or emotional bullying, where both are not mutually exclusive. Emotionally and verbal bullying are common amongst children and can take the form of threats, manipulation, boycotts, intimidation, slander, gossip and much, much more. And it usually stems from the fact that an individual is perceived to be different in some form or manner. Children usually find camaraderie in finding similarities with others but really need to be taught that everyone is unique and deserves respect, even if we don’t agree with them on certain choices.
And that’s true for peer-to-peer relationships as much as it is true for relationships with those in authority. I remember once teaching a class of pre-teen students and they were all complaining about their parents and how their parents were not allowing them to play with their phones before bedtime. We then discussed possible options of engaging in discussions with parents but ultimately, the conclusion was that they might not agree with their parents’ decision, but they should still respect their parents and speak in a respectful manner when conveying views and opinions. It helped them realise that it’s okay to have differing opinions but it’s not okay to be disrespectful. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done.
If we had a world of people who showed acceptance and respect, instead of judgment and condemnation, our world would be a much better place to live in. And it starts with teaching our children that everyone is unique and deserves our respect, whether we agree with them or not.