Radical Respect in Response to the Garland Shooting

In Garland, Texas on Sunday evening, two gunmen were killed in a shooting, following their attack on a cartoon event that centered around depictions of the prophet Mohammad. The American Defense Freedom Initiative hosted the event as part of its mission to stop the advance of what they believe is the U.S. government’s capitulation to radical Islam. It is easy to see how events unfolded as they did.

I do not condone violence. In fact, I am a pacifist, borne of my own faith in humanity’s collectivist nature and true desire for love and connection. It is from here that I offer a concept for dealing with differences: radical respect.

As a therapist, I learned about radical respect through my training in relational-cultural theory (RCT), which posits that growth-fostering relationships are the foundation for our mental health and wellness. Translated in layperson terms, RCT teaches that each of us has to give and receive love just as we are. When we learn to participate in relationships as genuine, vulnerable human beings who are invested in nurturing each other’s potential, our own growth process is exponential. It’s here that radical respect comes in.

My friends at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, where RCT is taught to therapists, prove this handy working definition:

Radical Respect

A deep appreciation based on empathy for the other person’s current functioning and for the context within which her or his suffering arose; an equally deep appreciation for her or his coping methods, survival strategies, and the inner wisdom that sought to keep her or him alive.

Far from being an abstract and inconceivable method for dealing with others, this strategy follows the teachings of humanity’s spiritual leaders across time. It gives us a practicable concept that therapists use every day in supporting clients and patients to become better partners, parents, friends…and wherever else in our lives we need to grow our compassion and understanding.

Why I offer this here is because I see a fundamental disconnect in how we treat each other. Somehow, secular Western culture has deceived itself into believing that actively taunting a group is the ultimate expression of free speech. Rather than providing a mechanism in which I as a transgender woman and my neighbors who are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, gay, straight, bisexual, black, white, etc., have exactly the same opportunity for voice, “free speech” these days is most often used to punish those who differ from us.

This is particularly challenging in the conversation of Radical Islam. As the cartoon event sought to demonstrate, freedom of speech is used as the guiding principle for depicting images of the prophet Mohammad (forbidden in Muslim aniconism). People become radical in Islam for the same reason people have always become radical. They feel oppressed and attacked.

Throughout history, this has always been the reason people radicalized…whether radical feminists, civil rights activists, authors, poets, or American colonials, people become radical when they feel there is no other way. One people’s terrorists are another’s freedom fighters.

It is here that we reach the conundrum and must ask ourselves, “What do we wish to see happen next?” As I might ask my feuding couple, “What and who do you want to be in your relationship tomorrow?” Who do we want to be? 

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