Respect the Other

sempaigrahamThere’s been a lot of fighting lately…mostly about ideas, rights, and perspectives.  Unfortunately, this kind of fighting is not reserved for State Houses and the Courts.  It happens in companies, churches, non-profit organizations…even on youth baseball fields. Yet with all this conflict, nothing seems to get resolved. Which makes me think, “Are we fighting the wrong way?”

Below is an piece written by a very good friend of mine, Senpai Graham M. Smith. He’s an Instructor at Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense. He wrote it as a response to the recent controversy surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag. Graham beautifully captures the key to addressing conflict and building healthy community: respect, empathy and understanding the others’ perspective. I hope you find his comments, as I did, both challenging and inspiring. If you do, I invite you to make a donation to Sun Dragon. You can access their donation page here.

(I wrote this in response to a discussion elsewhere that really troubled me. I’m not throwing this out to start an argument, just trying to offer a perspective on respecting others while asserting our rights. I don’t speak for anyone else but me.)

When we spar at our karate school, we have a simple rule for determining if we’re using too much power against our partner. If my partner thinks I’m using too much power, it’s too much power. It doesn’t matter that I think that roundhouse kick was a little love tap to the belly, if my partner thinks it was too much, it’s too much.

It’s an interesting exercise in respect, because the use of power isn’t just about mass times speed plus penetration of the technique, the mental aspect is equally important. People bring history to sparring matches and some of them have traumas and other triggers the rest of us may not even know about. Because we want sparring to be instructive and fun for everyone, we respect that the past affects the present and our perception of the present. If that “love tap” makes someone scared, it’s too much.

Sometimes sparring becomes a useful tool for people to move beyond their past traumas, sometimes it’s not that easy and it never really goes away.

I think we can look at the balance between asserting our rights and respecting others in a similar fashion and, if we strike the right balance, we create a healthier community.

When we minimize an expression of power, like having a symbol such as the Confederate Battle Flag flying at the state capitol, we’re not showing respect for all the factors that go into how people see that symbol. We’re not respecting those people. For many people, that flag reminds them of a past when they were legally second class citizens and often treated as much worse than that. To have that symbol associated with their state’s government can easily make them feel like that state government doesn’t represent them.

It’s fine to argue about states’ rights and individual rights and it always feels good to win an argument. Especially when it’s just a little kerfluffle over a flag, right? But some wounds go deep, some traumas can’t be wished away and there are times when the rights of the majority need to bend out of respect for the minority.

The grace displayed by many members of Mother Emanuel is beautiful to see. They have every right to be enraged and to demand revenge, and yet many of them are coming to this with unfathomable forgiveness in their hearts. By comparison, it seems a small thing to ask of a state to remove a symbol out of deference to a group with so much suffering in their past.