I had a conversation recently with a dear friend of mine, and we were discussing where the metaphorical public square is in these times.
It’s not at the literal town square anymore; those are only used for mayors or other public servants making special announcements or the like.
It’s not at pubs or bars as talking about politics is a sure way to be ostracized there, not to mention at this particular moment covid has made most social watering wells a thing of the past.
We came to the conclusion that the modern-day public square has moved to social media. Whether that is Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, or any of the other various types, this is where we can all “come” and see each other’s ideas, thoughts, and views. Many of us tend to keep our private beliefs sequestered behind our public profiles. I myself am often guilty of that. I sometimes avoid talking about my beliefs for fear of being mis-labelled, misunderstood, or giving offense when none is meant. However, at least for me, staying silent on social media is no longer an option as it feels like my country—our country is set on tearing itself apart, and I want to try and do my part to put some small part back together. That will only come by people openly talking, discussing, and trying to come to an understanding with one another.
It was on one of the metaphorical public square (Facebook) that I came across some interesting and very similar sorts of pictures about the past two US Presidents.
During President Trump's time in office, I frequently saw a post depicting a tired-looking President Trump with the caption, “You may not like him, but you should Respect him for the office he holds.” I remember disliking that picture, though at the time I couldn’t say why. Now, I’ve seen the same type of picture, but instead of President Trump, it contains a tired President Biden. One would think, since I voted for Biden last November, I would happily re-share this picture and call it a day. Yet when I saw the tired president picture with the same caption, I still didn’t like it.
I thought about these pictures far longer than I probably should have. For crying out loud, I legitimately have caught myself thinking about Facebook posts from over a year ago. That is not normal behavior. Yet these pictures struck me wrong, and after thinking on them a lot, I think I can say why.
You see, I was raised to respect the office of the president, to respect the government, and to respect our elected officials. I was raised by amazing parents who made sure I knew that certain behaviors were unacceptable. That if I did X (assuming X is bad), then I surely would face the consequences of my actions. I came to the realization that trusting or respecting, regardless of actions, did not sit well with me, and frankly, I found that I just couldn’t.
You see, respect is earned.
I was reading recently when I came upon this phrase (respect is earned) said by a certain bridgeman (from the fictional series, The Stormlight Archives), that made the metaphorical light bulb click for me. I disliked these pictures of the presidents because they were asking me to respect the presidents regardless of their actions. Why should our standards be lowered because of someone's positions? They should act with honor, and when they do, that’s when respect is warranted. I don’t believe President Trump acted in a way worthy of respect in office, and while I support some of what President Biden has done, he has not been a perfect president. He has certainly made objectionable decisions.
Now, I feel the need to clarify. I am not saying that because I don’t respect these individuals' actions, they deserve to be slandered or treated uncivilly. They are still human beings, still deserving of the same rights and freedoms that our society promises all of us. But do they deserve the type of respect that means they shouldn’t be questioned or held accountable for wrongs? No.
Respect is earned. We as a society seem to mistake respect with civility, and it’s time to learn to make that distinction again. It’s time to hold public servants accountable for broken promises and outright lies. This won’t be achieved by screaming that your political representative deserves respect; it’s by actually acting with honor. Maybe that’s idyllic of me to return to, but it’s a vision I hold and hope for.
About the Author: Logan Longhurst is a graduate student in the Economics program at CGU in Southern California. He's interested in education practices, criminology and knowing a little about everything. He spends his spare time reading about the Cosmere, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and following the Utah Jazz.