October 31, 2023
By PAULA ANDERSON
“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing, I’ll meet you there.” — Rumi, 13th Century Maybe it started back in the late 80s with “Roseanne,” the TV sitcom that introduced irreverent verbal family barbs as a normal way to communicate. It stretched the envelope then. If you didn’t like it, you might have been labeled as just too sensitive. What’s “respect,” anyway? Let’s turn it into a joke so we can all have a good laugh. If you’re not laughing then you must not “get it.” Now we don’t flinch at the name-calling, the rude behavior and lack of civility belching forth via the public media in the areas of entertainment and politics. That’s because we’ve since been groomed with an increasingly steady, toxic flow of messages via our entertainment industry. Sadly, it garnered viewers who would see the TV ads and then open their wallets. Since then, the hefty servings of people doing violent things and talking trash to each other have only increased. They passed the litmus test because, ultimately, they were profitable. They provided the adrenaline rush that more benign shows like Andy Griffith could never deliver. Emotionally toxic messages take little time to write or mentally process because they’re emotion-driven and no one anticipates a resolution. Much like social media posts. But as a culture, how much of that has been embraced? Obviously, a lot. So much so that facts no longer stand on their own because there’s been a diminished regard for what’s true so long as it’s entertaining. And such entertainment has clearly bled into the circus sideshow of current politics. So, it’s appropriate to point out that here in western Colorado there’s a refreshing, now well-established movement called Restore the Balance. In short, its mission is to reduce the polarity that would further divide us. Basically, it’s a stand against extremism, left or right. So, who makes up this group? About 67% are independent voters with most of those being former Democrats and Republicans. Policy discussions are too complex and tedious to attempt to tease out some common ground in conversation. Besides, many people in this part of the state are absorbed with just surviving and staying financially afloat. But values provide a more solid arena for consensus. A common value expressed again and again among the nearly 3,000 members of the growing Restore the Balance group is “respect.” Respect predicates several things: That we must listen first before we plan our response. That we consider there may be facts that validate another point of view. That we don’t know it all. Practicing respect can help to neutralize the negative charge that circulates where there is polarization or the perception of it. And it can change things in an instant. What we all seek, of course, is connection, where we come to experience — to remember — that we’re more alike than different. While as a society we’ve become increasingly disconnected, I find I’m emotionally revived when I can just turn off my phone or TV, leave my house, and talk with people in the check-out line at the grocery store, while I’m putting gas in my car or on a morning hike. That’s when I’m reminded that the Grand Valley is really a community of mostly very friendly, caring people. I think we’re all tired of listening to or reading messages keynoted with name-calling, rudeness, and non-truths from the mouths of those who seek to lead. We’re tired of anything that suggests that we be less than we are — because we’re better than that. The best conversations result in an understanding that necessarily carries with it a show of respect. And that comes not by just talking, but also taking the time to listen. We can do that. And we must.