My job is to provoke you to think about how far we have departed from civility and common decency, to the extent that self-respect, shame, regret and apology have all departed from our interpersonal dialogue and relationships. The present socio-cultural and political climate makes my job extremely difficult, but it has been made even more difficult by the culture of disrespect being stoked and promoted by the most powerful man in America, now occupying the White House. Just when we thought that the Obama model of consummate class, composure and exemplary conduct would become the model for future inhabitants of the white house, the new residents have trashed those ideals. We believed that the Obama family legacy would take hold and gain traction as America’s new gold standard of decency and decorum, “when they go low, we go high,” – instead, the barbarians have stormed the gates and began burning our barns.

An even more daunting and disturbing dichotomy is the new reality – we live in a deeply religious, largely Christian country, but also in a parallel universe that is indecent, irreverent and disrespectful, one in which the president and his supporters are openly waging a culture war, along with dredging up all the hate and intolerance from the past and frustrating any chance we once had of reconciliation. If you think I am blaming the president for the air of hostility, incivility and indecency that now exists in our country, you’re right, I am. In Turkish culture there is a proverb that says, “The fish stinks first at the head,” or “a fish stinks from the head down.” So if the servant is disorderly, look no further than the master, it is with him/her that the disorder begins and ends. This proverb has never been the scientific basis or psychology on which human behavior is predicated, yet it remains the most practical result or manifestation of existential human behavior. Our leaders or influencers remain the most generous contributors to our learned and conditioned behavior, we quote and mimic our pastors and religious leaders – whoever they condemn, we condemn. We readily duplicate the insensitivity and cruelty of our favorite social and political trendsetters and we parody the anger and resentment of parents and guardians; we, because of our victimization or gullibility have become vessels or repositories of the systematic bad behaviors of others.

We are alive without realizing who or what we live for, or why we live; we then become unaware either by conscious surrender or unconscious programming, either way we become expendable pawns in the war being waged for our minds. In our rush to be accepted, to be seen and heard, not for any meaningful contribution to life – but simply to make an impression; for that, we have contorted ourselves into lemmings racing willy-nilly, insensitive and uncaring about the needs of others.

So, where do we start and how do we start to rebuild self-respect, respect for others and attract respect to ourselves?

Make the home the first bastion of a new process of Re-Education of our children and family, emphasizing an ethical and philosophical foundation based in self-awareness and emotional intelligence; models of this approach already exist in other cultures.

Create our own Schools in order to re-build the self-awareness, self-respect and the self-worth of our children. Establishing artistic, technical and trade schools in partnership with successful sports and entertainment franchises through non-profit organizations; there is no shortage of disposable dollars in the hands of black consumers and black celebrities. Where is our Black teachers and Ivy League Scholars who understand the destruction of Black potential through systemic discrimination and neglect, can you step up now and become Education Entrepreneurs, and fulfill a need that is begging for attention? Many churches need to re-think their mandates in an effort to respond to the need for a sound ethical and philosophical education for our youth in order that they can make sense of religion and spirituality. Many of their resources could be converted to re-educating and re-fitting our youth to understand the value and meaning of life in the here and now.

More than ever we need as a Black community to take Individual Responsibility for our destiny and that of our children; we need more than ever to be more respectful, thoughtful and decent to each other – it begins with Re-Education; become part of the movement. When we Re-build our institutions, respect will be our partner and constant companion.

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