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Peer Leader Letters #3

In our first workshop we ask the younger students to list the characteristics for respecting ourselves, respecting peers, and respecting adults and/or others who are different from ourselves.

It seems simple and is in fact easy to do because it’s something all of us have been developing the capacity to do since birth.

This is very important when first meeting new people- that we initiate a conversation with a topic we both have experience in.

But given the challenges of living in a diverse world, as we grow we have to consciously practice respect in our own lives.

Respect is doubly important as an inner process in our social/emotional lives because being respectful initiates a kind of openness in ourselves and our relationships – a public vulnerability you might call it since it is much easier to be guarded about our own lives, or judgmental and consequently withheld with other people whose social/emotional maturity level is different from your own.

Nevertheless, openness to new people and new experiences is an important aspect for our growth, and the growth of our relationships.

As such, the confusing of respect with superficial notions of courtesy towards another is personally limiting.

When we think about respect as a life skill for us as Peer Leaders it’s all about potentially freeing ourselves from the many stereotypes and other forms of judgmentalism that can limit our lives and experience.

We’re always working from experience in our actions as we grow, but we have to find a balance between our ‘judgments’, tastes, and values in life, and our courage to be open and encounter the new and the different.

During a pandemic it is especially important because fear, self-interest, and personal health concerns are prominent features now of the world we share. Interestingly, one of the more obvious ways this connection between inner balance and the practice of respect towards others can be seen publicly is in the matter of wearing masks.

We are counselled by medical authorities that the virus is spread in the air and water droplets and that the wearing of a mask can limit its spread, especially when accompanied by washing one’s hands and social distancing. We have also been informed that there are great differences in people’s vulnerability and consequences of exposure to the virus.

To the majority of people in our communities the wearing of a mask thus becomes an act of protecting oneself as well as others, or in other words a way of respecting ourselves and others. But to some in our communities the wearing of a mask mandated by public authorities is seen as an infringement of personal liberty.

We will likely debate this publicly with little result because the heart of the issue lies in how we practice respect in our individual lives, and thus the degree of inner freedom we have achieved to be open to experiencing life around us- even when that life can appear threatening!

The issue is made even murkier when the matter of distrust in public authority is included in the picture- though in essence we are talking about the same thing.

As mentioned before, the wearing of a mask is an act of respect both towards ourselves and others, though paradoxically- depending on your point of view- the wearing of a mask limits our sense of liberty.

But the issue is more than an intellectual one, and our ideals of personal freedom. It involves both our heads and hearts. It involves our pursuit of how we want to live together in our communities in an atmosphere of trust and respect.

One’s distrust of science in this case and public medical authorities may make sense intellectually to an individual, but does not address that individual’s obligation to act respectfully in a world of diverse ideas, diverse health vulnerabilities, nor our practice of community. This last point is especially important because a community is not just a physical place where things happen, but an essential dynamic of who we are and how we express our lives.

To summarize here, a person’s expression of liberty in refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic infers that they consider their version of ‘liberty’ the only version of liberty and thus becomes a refusal to live in diversity. It also infers that liberty is exclusively an individual matter, and not one shared by their community, and the natural environment.

As Peer Leaders we help people help themselves to live productively in a diverse world,  through developing an awareness of respect in their own lives. Its basis in their social/emotional growth and application in their ‘thinking’ life is an awareness we can all benefit from.

November 29, 2020

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