One of the many things I appreciate about the Army is the importance of “respect” in its ranks. From the day a civilian arrives to Basic Training, respect for one another, our nation, and those placed in positions of authority is ingrained as a core Army value. This is most evident in the formal manner in which Soldiers address one another, “Yes Sir”, “Yes Ma’am”, “Yes Drill Sergeant”, etc. Even when speaking to those of inferior rank, a title is still used and respect is always shown. Disagreement does occur, but seldom in a disrespectful or bombastic manner.
Granted, the Army isn’t perfect. Disrespect does occur from time to time. But I am certain that those who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces understand and exemplify respect more than civilians. I mention this not do discredit the 95% of Americans who are not currently serving, but as a means to highlight one of the greatest concerns I have about our civil discourse today – the rapidly disappearing value of respect.
Take for example how many of our citizens address/speak of our President. When I joined the Army in 2008, I was taken aback and saddened to hear refrains such as: “How can you go to work for an Army led by an ignorant warmongering man who has taken our nation to war for no reason other than to fill his pockets will oil money?” Or what about today, when I am confronted by comments like: “Our President is a Communist who hates Christians.” Last January, after President Obama’s Second Inaugural, I posted a small excerpt from his speech that I appreciated on my Facebook page and in my daily ‘Chaplain Minute’ email. You would have thought I had sold my soul to the devil based on some of the comments I received. Regardless of our party affiliation, it’s pathetic that so many people echo similar refrains on a regular basis about their duly elected president.
This past week I read and heard commentary about the late Nelson Mandela that was nothing short of shocking. Granted, Mandela had his faults (by the way, we all do…), but is this not the man who led his nation out from the evil that was apartheid? If I didn’t know any better, I might have thought Mandela was a tyrant on par with Stalin and Hitler, instead of a champion of freedom for millions.
Or what of the debate our nation continues to have about health care? I’m still not sure where I come down on this issue. I firmly believe our government has a responsibility to provide healthcare to all of its citizens, but I’m not convinced the federal government is the best means to run this massive program. Nonetheless, I don’t think those who believe the private industry remains the best answer to our nation’s health care ills want sick people to die or that those who support national health care are statist control freaks. Our civic discourse on this issue however could lead one to believe both of these things.
I realize policy debates can get passionate. After my post about abandoning the culture war, I was confronted once again with such passion. And I like passion. I like debate. In fact, I like passionate debate. Nothing excites me more than a heated political discussion, especially with those whom I disagree. But can we Americans show some more respect in our dialogue with one another? Is there no room for disagreement in our society any longer? Can we find room to compromise – not on our convictions – but on our public policy?
Perhaps I’m being too nostalgic for a time that never existed, but I cannot believe that today’s civil discourse is healthy for our republic. Respect is a virtue the Army teaches well. It’s one I pray our nation learns to embrace again soon.