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Community Voices: The Gentle Power of Respect

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in The Black Swan “our highest currency is respect,” and I couldn’t agree more. Currently there is a lot of noise in our culture about respect.  There is the NFL drama around the national anthem and the ever growing issue about respect due from the President and respect due to the President.  I don’t care to wade into those waters because there are already too many voices in that conversation, most of which are simply opportunistic. I do, however, have a simple story that should gently remind us of the inherent power and dignity in the giving and receiving of respect, a foundational value in all cultures.

I conducted a funeral for a friend this past week and afterwards we had a full processional, complete with police escort, to the graveyard for the interment.  As about 50+ vehicles lined up behind Lexington County Sheriff’s vehicles for the 3-mile ride, I suddenly changed roles from Pastor to Engineer/Town Councilman.  I saw us blocking traffic on constantly congested Sunset Blvd on a Saturday afternoon and began to wonder if this time-honored practice of a convoy processional to the graveside was still feasible in 2017 in an area like Lexington, a place with little margin for additional traffic interruptions.  

So I am riding behind the hearse and having these admittedly pragmatic thoughts as we turn off of the main road onto a two lane road, and that is where it happened. I saw oncoming traffic begin to stop.  Some of them even pulled over onto the side of the road and turned on their emergency flashers. I thought they would continue on their way after the hearse and family vehicles passed, yet they stayed put while the entire 50+ vehicle procession slowly passed.

I see processionals like this very rarely these days in Lexington and I have been the guy passing the processional as well, wondering if I should stop, pull off, keep going slowly?  But as one who was now in the processional on a busy Saturday afternoon, it occurred to me just how much respect was being shown to this family by this simple gesture of delaying one’s plans for 1-2 minutes to honor a family in mourning. Without getting too sappy, I must say it was beautiful to see and a great reminder of our shared humanity and how simple acts of honor and respect in society at large can have a profound impact. It made my mind get out of engineering mode and back into humanity mode and made me very proud of our community.

Unbeknownst to the oncoming traffic that stopped, the gentleman we were going to bury was a great Lexingtonian. He was a simple man, a farmer and a mill worker who had labored here in Lexington most of his life. At 88 years of age, the county had outgrown him in so many ways, yet it was him and others like him that plowed, planted and watered the prosperity we see and enjoy today. Thus, he was certainly due this honor from the countless strangers who just happened to be riding down the road that day.  And when they politely provided that honor in this most somber moment, it was a beautiful sight to behold.

Honor is often overlooked in 2017 because it is rarely efficient and respect is passed by because it cannot be mandated by its very nature. Yet when people in a family, a community or a nation freely choose to show honor to their fellow man by placing their desires on hold, it binds us together as a society and makes us not only stronger, but better.

So as we are daily forced to watch our national culture rage back and forth about honor and respect, let’s choose to exercise our voice by giving honor where honor is due. Show honor to the teachers among us who labor for our children, to the public safety officers who protect and serve at great person costs, to elected officials who serve in spite of the vitriol they receive regardless of how they serve, to the parents who volunteer at schools and sporting events, to pastors who labor for our communities, and as in the above scenario, to our fellow man in recognition of the inherent dignity of all people. Tweets and posts may pass information, but small, genuine acts of honor and respect are the silver bullets which have the power to cultivate a better tomorrow for ourselves and our children.

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