By John Mathews
Category: Family
May 2018

Humans deserve respect, simply because they are human. This truth is in the process of going from self evident, to assumed, to denied.

A useful model I’ve come across states that it takes three generations for a society to deny something previously considered true. The first generation studies or experiences something which leads to a particular value or belief. The second generation inherits the belief and assumes it to be true, but doesn’t arrive at the belief through their own critical thought. The third generation then questions the assumption, realises that most holders of the belief do not have a good basis for their belief, and disregards it.

The belief that people have a responsibility to look after each other and treat each other with a minimum level of respect seems to be following this route.

That humans inherently deserve a degree of respect and dignity simply because they are human is self-evident. In times of comfort and excess it could be ignored, but in times of calamity and in the aftermath of disasters it becomes undeniable and obvious. This is partly because disasters reveal our instinct for justice and our frailty in the face of misfortune.

Life is experienced through the lens of the mind, and its perception is mostly governed by fundamental circumstances or desires. The trappings of a prosperous society allows this reality to be covered by a veneer of soft arguments, or rejected in favor of a viewpoint that says we have superseded these supposedly basic origins.

Good leaders should know better. They should study history and be self-aware. In the past they have forgotten this reality and have been forced to relearn it at great cost. Are we about to forget, again, and let our children live with those consequences?

My grandfathers generation saw the damage that sectarian systems bring, and were forced to answer questions around how much respect people deserve only because they are people. As the consequences of different views and systems became evident, my fathers generation assumed the answers to be self-evident, because the consequences of the previous “forgetting” were still clear.

Who is clearly articulating this now? This year?

When we discuss taxation, social mobility, migration, military intervention, why do we not start with the assumed self-evident truth that people are inherently valuable and important? Humans are more than metrics, and cannot be entirely evaluated using only quantitative methods.

Horton, the title character in “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Zeus, understood this. He went to great lengths to protect the tiny and weak people in who-ville. We teach this truth to our children, but do not demonstrate it as adults. Jesus also understood it. He said that we should love our neighbours, and explained that our neighbours are people we come across who need our help.

I wonder if forgetting that humans are inherently worthy of respect is a prerequisite for declining;

  • standards of governance

  • social mobility

  • peace

  • economic growth

Which makes me think it is a self defeating deception. When we choose to disregard a group of humans because it is inconvenient to help them, we are elevating our needs above theirs. This seems to create chains of events where everybody suffers.