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Ever since my childhood, I have stood by the Golden Rule; that is, to treat others the way you want to be treated. Whether I was at home, at school, or out in public, I would always be kind and generous to other people in hopes that I would be treated in this way. I also knew that in order to respect others, you must possess self-respect as well. How are you going to respect someone if you cannot believe in and have respect for yourself? I have dealt with this problem of respect for others and my own self-respect for many years, and I have only begun to divulge in to the hidden meaning of these two ideas.
For me, it all started when I was in grade school where I was known as the kid that was friends with everyone and as one of the nicest people anyone had ever met. I found enjoyment from being nice to other people and it made me happy.
So, why would I ever stop? I only began to consider this was unbeneficial to me, after so many years of trying to make people happy. As I progressed through middle school, high school, and now college, I have begun to realize that this Golden Rule isn’t always applicable to everyone. Throughout my boyhood and teenage years I would make people happy and received nothing in return.
I think people began to take my kindness and generosity for granted, and they began to walk all over me, not returning any of that kindness I selflessly presented to them.
I began to feel a little depressed and became slightly bitter dealing with people in general. I was unhappy with the world and could only find peace when I was by myself. Could my transformation from being a kind, lighthearted child to a pessimistic, trying to be happy type of teenager be due to failing to receive any respect from others? Could it be that I had lost my own self-respect? Why had I seemingly become my own monster? Did the lack of respect manifest in my head and lead to the loss of my own self-respect?
I couldn’t help but wonder why this would happen to me, and most likely to other people like me as well. The next thing I know, I am creating and watching plays in my writing class during my second semester of college. After acting out in my own play, I began to realize that the plays had a lot to do with the burning questions in my head I had about self-respect. In my play, the main character drunkenly killed a lonely homeless man with her car, and sped off the scene while trying to forget it ever happened. She was able to do so, but her lack of respect for others ended up haunting her, literally.
A ghost appeared and threatened to take her away from her child if she never fessed up to her crime. The respect she never gave to the homeless man ended up haunting her and biting her in the back. This situation makes me question if failing to respect other people can bite you in the back, why hasn’t it happened to the people who disrespected me? This also leads to a bigger question, what then happens if you disrespect yourself? Later in the class we began to read The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a novel by Alice Hoffman, which centers around two characters and their struggles in early 20th century Manhattan. To my luck and amazement, this book also relates to the question of self-respect that I often think about.
One of the characters, a young girl named Coralie, had lost respect for herself and soon after lost respect for others as well. Coralie basically did everything her father wanted her to do, even to the point where he had her do things to make her lose her own self-respect. Coralie’s father did not respect Coralie and her individuality. He made her wear gloves to conceal a deformity on her hands, and had made her dance naked for older gentlemen. She began to think down and lose respect for herself. She did not care that she was being used and taken advantage of.
This led her to disrespect her father, and eventually to disobey his orders. The other main character, Eddie, had a tough childhood and lost both self-respect and respect for others. As a young child, his father tried to commit suicide right in front of him, possibly intending to leave his son alone working in the cruel factory conditions. I see this as his father not respecting his son. Soon after, Eddie loses almost all respect for his father and himself. He picked up a job that he knew his father didn’t condone. Eddie ended up doing other things he wasn’t proud of, continuing to lose self-respect. As he grew older he became bitter, and took the occupation as a photographer.
Eddie opted to take photographs of murderers and crime scenes. Was this a sign of a loss of self-respect as well? Both of these jobs caused him to continue to lose respect for others because he was able to see the scum and horrible things people could commit every day. Through exploring these two characters, I was able to question one big idea, that is, do the two concepts of self-respect and respect for others play hand in hand? If someone loses respect for others, will they lose respect for themselves and vice versa? I have personal experience with these questions and it only adds to my affirmation that this is true. Eddie lost respect for his father and in turn, lost respect for himself as well as everyone else he acquainted with.
Coralie’s father failed to respect her as a woman and his daughter, and in turn was not able to receive respect back causing Coralie to lose her own self-respect. If these two ideas go hand in hand, how will anyone maintain respect for themselves in this increasingly bitter world? How can someone overcome the loss of respect for others and how can they regain their own self-respect? What causes someone to lose respect for themselves when they are being disrespected by others? These are questions I haven’t found the answer to, but judging by the path this class is taking, I guarantee that in time I will be able to find the answer.
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