When travelling by myself for the first time after finishing civil service I passed through Paris, and on the steps facing the Centre Pompidou I met a girl from Canada who was half-Lebanese. We went for a coffee in a busy street café and though we only talked for maybe two hours, this conversation changed the way I looked at the world. We were watching the crowds of people busy shopping when she said: “Aren’t these human beings beautiful?” I was surprised, since the stressed and closed up faces looked rather repellent to me. But she said: “Don’t look at the mimics, look at the humans behind them, they’re all fearful and try to make their way through the world.”
More than ten years later, including seven years of studying philosophy and social sciences, many attempts to reflect in solitude, quite a bit of travelling and quite a few, although by far not enough, inspiring conversations, this is still the essence of what I can think of humankind. We are all born into this world, trying to make something out of our strange surroundings, full of fear and longing for trust.
Whatever then happens to us, whatever identities we assume, whatever beliefs and convictions we adopt, whatever attitudes and patterns of behaviour we develop, whatever walls of self-confidence and distinction we build up – all this happens to such a beautiful innocent fearful being. This characteristic can never leave us, it is our most basic feature, everything else is build on this. One may call it human dignity or give it other names. It is my one fundamental belief that if we manage to be honest with ourselves and others, the inevitable phenomenological result is to realise that human beings are beautiful beings, who deserve our full respect.
Thus I respect you because I assume that if you are able to read this, you are a fellow fearful mind. It is my goal to see and respect the beauty in every human being I encounter. And I know that if I don’t, it is my own issues that distract me from being honest.*
This implies by no means that I respect everything human beings do. Of course, there are horrible things done by human beings, which should be openly judged and effectively prevented. Respecting doesn’t mean not criticising, nor remaining passive. On the contrary, I think it’s a sign of respect to openly criticise somebody and to intervene if necessary (provided it is not strategic critique or intervention aiming at other purposes).
*By being honest I mean looking at ourselves and others with open curiosity and vulnerability, without hiding behind the walls of our so called “self-confidence” and all the other walls we build up to protect our emotions, to make ourselves believe that we are somehow more important than others, to affirm ourselves that we have a stable ground to stand on in this world etc. See picture for illustration.
PS: Please freely comment on and challenge anything I’m writing in this blog. I chose to start writing down my thoughts so that they don’t just circulate round and round in my head – where anything I’m thinking makes sense to me anyway… ;)