Sometimes it takes effort to recognize and respect a person’s dignity and humanity.
If the person is acting or speaking outside usual societal expectations, like the person on the subway platform engaging in loud conversation with seeming air, I can see they’re not using the same consensus reality that I’m using. They’re a human person whose experience I can’t effectively relate to. I still must respect their humanity, their rights, and their existence. I don’t have to like them or accept their authority. If I wish, I can engage with them and perhaps find some common ground.
Similarly, the street musician, the cyclist, the person I pass on the sidewalk: they’re all persons with a place of dignity in my world. I know precious little of any of their internal lives. Respect for personhood, self determination, and the right to meet their life’s needs is our common ground.
However, there is a loose collection of persons who claim respect extends specifically to respect for their authority. Under many conditions, they contend that this right to respect for authority overrides others’ right to life and basic dignity. The people making such arguments tend to be powerful due to their formal position (e.g. political leader, police, judge, white person, church elder). The respect they expect or demand is qualitatively different than what I work to give all people.
I may recognize their power, but that recognition does not automatically include respect for the authority traditionally accorded to their position. One of my fundamental beliefs is that authority must be constantly earned. Another is that authority must be questioned, held accountable, and used in service of those without the power of authority.
My beliefs, words, and actions do not endear me to those who expect automatic deference to their authority or obedience to their command. I am at times far louder, more visible, disrespectful in the eyes of these people than I ought to be. To some extent my whiteness and my education protect me from the brunt of authoritarian response. On the other side of the balance, my age, appearance, and presumed sex tend to intensify the “how DARE you” response.
With the resources at my disposal, my best self tries to reduce the negative effects of authoritarianism on my fellow persons. Those resources don’t always stretch as far as I wish they did. Sometimes my frustration leads me to speak or act in profoundly harmful ways. Sometimes I feel as though I have nothing left. Sometimes I cave to authority.
I keenly want to make positive, lasting change in the world, especially for the disadvantaged. If your ethics are similar, I wish you strength and inspiration.