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On Respect and Love

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The other day I saw an email from Code Pink, addressed toward President Obama and outlining all the reasons for concern about his leadership on issues such as health care and the military.

I agreed with some of the points in the letter, not with others. But what really bothered me was that midway through the email, the salutation became simply “Obama.” As in, “Obama, I am losing hope… Obama, we need renewed leadership.” This struck me as plain rude. What happened to “President Obama”?

Call me silly, but I think this matters. When George W. Bush was president, even though I disagreed with nearly everything he did and everything his administration stood for, I always made a point of saying “President Bush.” (Even though it really stuck in my craw.)

I think it goes back to remembering something that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said about loving your enemies. He actually said a lot about this — it was at the core of his preaching, and it was the fundamental basis of the Civil Rights Movement, as King interpreted it. He gave a whole sermon about it in 1957. Here’s what he says near the end of the sermon:

So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in God’s kingdom. We will be able to matriculate into the university of eternal life because we had the power to love our enemies, to bless those persons that cursed us, to even decide to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for those persons who spitefully used us.

I realize this may seem like a trivial, but it feels like it points to something deeper. I’m curious — what do other people think/feel? Does this relate to your Buddhist practice in any way, or am I just way out on a limb here?

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

6 responses »

  1. i feel ya, Maia. it seems a common pattern to over invest all our hopes in leaders which leads to denigrating them. because both extremes are based on illusions, it’s really easy to go from pedestal to crucifix in the blink of an eye.

    almost sounds like societal boderline personality disorder?

  2. I’m no fan of our President, who’s administration has been worse than even I predicted before the election. And yet, it’s really troubling to see all the disrespect that comes at a basic level towards him. Racism plays a part. And the general failure to respect others in political discourse also plays a role, as does the 24/7 blather-news media.

    With that said, I also saw a lot of terrible stuff when it came to President Bush when he was in office. The endless “he’s a moron” comments. The references to Hitler (which have been used on President Obama as well). And the general disregard for the man’s humanity. I didn’t support much of anything President Bush said or did while in office, but about half way through his second term, I finally decided to purge all personal attack language towards him. I still criticized the policies of his administration, but I actually started talking to people about giving him a bit of respect as a person. (My friends and family had no idea how to take this, and it showed me just how foreign a concept this basic form of respect has become when it comes to politics.)

    I don’t know if the Code Pink example was simply sloppy writing, or something deeper than that. But zenfant’s point is also important because we have such a huge problem in this country when it comes to dumping our hopes and dreams onto candidates who couldn’t possibly fulfill those wishes, even in the best of worlds. Too many of us fail to see that it’s up to all of us to work on the problems in our communities, and that no leader, however great, is worth a hill of beans unless he or she inspires the rest of us to take some responsibility, and act wisely and collectively to get things done.

  3. I agree with you. He has earned the right to be called President Obama whether you like him or not. Meet each other with respect, not with self created slang.

  4. Hello,

    I wanted to see if you would be interested in having your blog added to the Zen Community, an aggregator of Zen Buddhist blogs that I operate at

    Please let me know if you are interested.

    (If you are interested and reply, please remind me of your blog url in the e-mail as I am contacting a number of blogs today!)

    Al Jigen Billings


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