What is it to truly “respect” another? (An Excerpt)

The Princeton Prize in Race relations has as its Mission Statement to promote harmony, understanding, and RESPECT among people of different races. Similarly, in my own faith tradition, the baptismal vow asks us to RESPECT the dignity of every human being.Respect. From the Latin root word “Specere” to look. Re-spect literally means to look again. Notice that neither of these statements ask us to “tolerate” people of different races, or “work with” them; they don’t even ask to “be kind to” or “love” people of different races. They ask us to respect them. To look again at the dignity of every human being, regardless of skin color or accents or gender or style of dress, or who we worship or who we may choose to love. Henry David Thoreau says “it is not what you look at that matters, its what you see.” So again I ask, what do you see when you look at people who are different from you and how do you see yourself in the midst of that difference?

To see the dignity in every human being is to see beyond that which we believe is real- which are only figments of our manipulated, maneuvered and molded imaginations anyway- to see what is truly real- the divine deeply embedded in each of our DNA.  The divine is this incredible thing inside us, regardless of its outward manifestations, that knows we are made for more; it thirsts for knowledge and for discovering the truth; it seeks freedom and has at its core the desire to be seen as fully human. (Desmond Tutu) In our families, our schools, our communities and in the world.

Contrary to the popular Forbes Magazine lists, we are all worth the same, no one life is worth more than another’s. Not if you wear a hoodie instead of a shirt and tie. Not if you listen to loud music in your car. Not if you live in Bankhead instead of Buckhead. Not if you’re a girl sitting in a Nigerian classroom getting an education. Not if you’re a professional basketball player, and not the owner of the team. Not if you speak with a Spanish accent instead of an American one. And what is that anyway? Not even the American constitution can argue with this for “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”If we are able to see and value that incredible thing that resides in each of us, I believe there would be more opened hearts for loving, opened hands for shaking, opened arms for embracing, opened doors and borders for welcoming, opened eyes for seeing, and opened minds for understanding.

What we are is our Creator’s gift to us. But what we become is our gift to our Creator.

An excerpt from my Keynote Speech at the Princeton Prize for Race Relations Ceremony in Atlanta, GA May 8, 2014.  This Prize is awarded to high School students (nationwide) doing tremendous work in fostering harmony and respect among people of all races.  Please encourage students to apply for this prestigious award:  www.princeton.edu/pprize/