Edicts for living – Number 6 Respect others

I’m still working my way through the ten quotes listed on the postcard that I bought from the Nobel Peace Centre gift shop in Oslo. Now I have reached the quote that prompted the edict ‘respect others’:

A person is a person because he recognises others as persons.”

These words come from South African activist Bishop Desmond Tutu, who explains his code for life and living, embodied in the African philosophy Ubuntu, by saying that the essence of an individual’s humanity and identity as a person arises from his or her interactions with other human beings. He explains that, the core need for belonging and connection is fundamental to wellbeing, health and meaningful existence in general.

It seems so obvious that of course we need others and that without them we cannot truly be ourselves and yet I am struggling to articulate the thoughts that are prompted by this edict. Maybe it is because there are just so many and I don’t want to slip into a ‘more is more’ mindset when writing my posts. So on this note, here are a few of my immediate thoughts:

* One of my favourite psychological theoretical perspectives is that of humanistic psychology and the individual credited with its initial formulation is Carl Rogers (see some recommended readings below) . Rogers proposed a ‘person-centred’ approach to therapy, founded on the core principles of empathy, congruence and acceptance. In other words, he believed that in order to help a person with their psychological struggles, the therapist must seek to understand, accept and employ both their own and their client’s innate personal integrity and efforts to do the best that they could in their own particular situation and context. From a professional perspective this has been a morally tenable and effective way of working. Reading a book, an article or an on-line programme may be useful but they can’t ever substitute for human support and collaboration, especially that which doesn’t hide behind a professional mask and the falsehood of being completely sorted with all of the answers.

*The etymological root of the word ‘person’ comes from the old French persone, which means an individual or a human being. There is also a connection to the Latin ‘persona’, which, again, means human being or person but it also links with a part in a drama, an assumed character, and, interestingly, a mask or a false face. Now this is interesting because it rather puts paid to the idea of personal congruence and/or authenticity that Carl Rogers’ ideas encompass. If the persons we are to recognise as persons, that Bishop Tutu recommends, are just acted parts or, even worse, we are presenting ourselves as something we are not, then where do we stand and how much does respect come into it?

*Maybe that great children’s writer Dr Seuss has some perspective to offer? In his ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ The lead character, Horton the elephant says “a person’s still a person, no matter how small” and he is referring to the fact that no matter what beliefs or ideals they hold and how different these are to others, they still have value and should be respected.

This brings us back very neatly to another thought-provoking quote and it comes from Carl Rogers:

“Our culture, increasingly based upon the conquest of nature and the control of man, is in decline. Emerging through the ruins is the new person, highly aware, self-directing, an explorer of inner, perhaps more than outer space, scornful of the conformity of institutions and the dogma of authority.” Carl Rogers American Psychologist (1974).

Of course the assumptions and pronouns of the culture and times when Rogers was writing have to be overlooked but he makes some interesting points that continue to be relevant nearly half a century later.

  • Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84119-840-4.
  • Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84529-057-7
  • Rogers, Carl. (1969). Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become. (1st ed.) Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merill.

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