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More than the catchy lyrics written by Otis Redding in 1965 and becoming the breakout hit of Aretha Franklin later that decade, the song R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a call for empowerment and the recognition of the singer as someone deserving of respect.

As 2021 is history and 2022 looks, at least for now, to be more of the same when it comes to divisiveness within society, it is important to remember the message of those lyrics that all people by default are worthy of respect. This holds true even when an individual’s actions show a lack of respect for others. In these situations it is essential to show respect and follow the fundamental lesson of treating others the way you would want to be treated yourself.

As maxims go, the lesson spelled out by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,” and echoed across virtually all world religions and ethical codes, is an essential part of civilized society.

Many of the issues in society can be traced back to forgetting this most basic lesson and ignoring the fundamental dignity of all people regardless of the size of their bank accounts, how they dress, how they look or how they live. All too often people get tied up in intellectually separating the world into “us” and “them” camps.

Those aligned with how we live, think and who, at least superficially, seem to share our values are in the “us” camp. All others are in the “them” category. Into this group are the people who may pray differently, if at all, or who may have different political leanings or cheer for a rival sport’s team.

It is easy to fall into the trap of looking at the “them” as being somehow inferior or less deserving of our respect and compassion. “They” quickly become subhuman compared to the “us.” It is this slippery path that leads to the horrors, pogroms and unrest that repeat throughout history. It is a path that modern America is quickly marching toward.

In place of informed discussion and debate to reach a shared solution to problems that impact everyone, society has slipped to vulgar chants and calls to take up arms. One only needs to look back to the harrowing events of a year ago to see how much we are balanced on the head of a pin.

There are those whose sole motive seems to be to tear society down in order to build themselves up on the funeral pyre of American democracy. These individuals feed off the erosion of mutual respect which weakens every community. A divided people are easily conquered. This was true when the ancient philosophers wrote about the waging of war thousands of years ago, and is equally true today with the pernicious impact of social media exaggerating differences among groups and feeding the flames of discord in the name of profits and pageviews.

Mutual respect is the armor that repels these attacks. Respect recognizes that while each of us may strongly disagree, that which unites us as part of a common humanity is far greater than that which divides us.

As with many things, the writers of the Gospels summarize it best as John 12:34 recounts Jesus’s commandment “That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.