unique, precious and unrepeatable in worth.
I also inhabit a world of other human persons who are
unique, precious and unrepeatable in worth.
As a person, I expect to be treated as a subject,
not an object.
I am an end in myself,
not merely a means to someone else’s end.
I will not allow myself to be used;
nor will I tolerate abuse.
I will respect my body as well as the bodies of other human persons.
I will not undermine the dignity of another human being;
because in doing so, I undermine my own dignity.
I will not label others in dehumanizing terms,
because persons are infinitely more
than all labels, classifications or categories.
Except in the context of appropriate humor,
I will not take others “lightly,”
negating their inestimable value as human persons.
I will not reduce my humanity to a color.
Hence, I am not, first, a white person.
Rather, I am a person who is white.
Nor will I reduce my humanity to a function.
Hence, I am not, first, a teacher.
Rather, I am a person who teaches.
Therefore, I am valuable, first and foremost,
because of who I am, not what I do.
I am someone, not something;
a “who,” not a “what;”
begotten, not made.
In this article, I want to explore briefly the topic of aging, the process of becoming older, especially as it relates to any man or woman near or over the age of 50.
In 1965, The Who, the popular British Rock Band, released “My Generation,” a song which was written by the guitarist Pete Townshend. It was about celebrating the younger generation, even to the point of mocking the elderlyMy Site or aged, saying, “I hope I die before I get old.”
In 1965, Townshend was 20 years of age; today, he is 73. However, I would suppose that he doesn’t want to be dead. He is, undoubtedly, happy to be alive. The reason is that whether a person is 20 or 73, life is still a gift; it is still good to be alive. In short, life has meaning and purpose, regardless of a person’s age.
America’s Cult of Youth
Not much has changed in 52 years, because the young are still focused on “My Generation,” with its worship of youth, beauty and strength. For example, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (referring to a study by the academic psychologist Edith Weisskopf-Joelson) says that the fear of aging is an unhealthy trend in the United States, which stresses “the value of youth.”1 For instance, I recently went to Great Clips for a hair cut. On the walls of the room, I was surrounded by pictures of young men and women with various hair styles. I asked the woman who was cutting my hair, ‘Why don’t you have on your walls pictures of middle-aged or older men and women? They also matter; their lives are worthwhile.’ She laughed at my comments.
I was told by a well-meaning neighbor that I am too old to be hired for a full-time position at any college or university. In his opinion, it was too late for me to become a full-time professor. I suppose that he was implying that if you are, say, 50 or over, your life in the workplace has, for all practical purposes, come to an end. His thinking may be shaped by popular culture, with its the cult or worship of youth. As Frankl rightly observes,
“[T]oday’s society … adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise.”2
I went shopping at the King of Prussia Mall and there they were again: Pictures of young men and women, adorning the walls of one store after another. To me, it confirmed Frankl’s point, namely, the idolizing of youth in American culture.
Too Old to be Employed Full-Time?
My neighbor’s view about aging men and women may be shared by some people in the workplace. But such a view is also a form of discrimination. So I ask: Is it too late for me to be a professor? Am I too old? Then I thought: Great things can happen when a person is old. Consider the following examples and then add your own: At the age of 58, Emmanuel Levinas was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Poitiers. Moses was 80 when he led the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage. At the age of 75, Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa. Joseph Ratzinger was 78 when he became Pope Benedict XVI. At the age of 67, Viktor Frankl received his license to fly a plane. Ronald Regan was 69 when he became President of the United States.
Too old? Too late? It is never too late to be great!
1. Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 31, 84.
2. ———-, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 152.
Lesson for the Day: Dignity (respect) is to be ascribed to all human beings, even those who, through committing evil acts, don’t deserve it.
“‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ ‘He is a reed,’ said Pascal, ‘but a reed which thinks!’ And it is in this thinking, this consciousness, this responsibility that constitute the dignity of man, the dignity of each individual human being. And it is always to be ascribed to the individual person whether he preserves this dignity or tarnishes it. Whereas the first behavior is personal merit, the second constitutes personal guilt.”
Source: Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 110-111.
The apostle Peter tells newly converted Christians, living in a hostile Roman community of the first century: “Show proper respect to everyone” (I Peter 2:17a, NIV). Ultimately, the reason believers are to respect every human being is that he or she a sacred icon, being made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27).
Integrally related to respecting every human being is respecting God. In fact, Peter tells believers to “fear God” (I Peter 2:17c, NIV). In other words, an ultimate respect for the God the Creator often results in a respect for God’s creatures, specifically, human beings. That is to say, a proper view of God (theology) helps to develop in believers a proper view of other human beings (anthropology). Not only that, but a proper view of God also shapes the way Christians should treat others (ethics).
No Inferior Human Beings
Because all human beings are made in the image of God, they share in the same, common nature, namely, a human nature. Because all humans, ultimately, originate from a common source, namely, God, then there are no inferior humans. They are fully and equally members of the same human race, fully and equally possessing the value or dignity of a human being – regardless of their race, religion, color, nationality, language and gender.
Degrees of Love
Peter admits that there are degrees of love, just as there are degrees of honor. He tells Christians to “love the family of believers” (I Peter 2:17c, NIV). Believers, then, are to have a natural, general love for humanity, all human beings, and a special, particular love for redeemed humanity, the spiritual family of God, their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Degrees of Respect
Peter instructs his readers to “honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:17d, NIV). Perhaps a better translation than “emperor” is “king” (KJV). The same Greek word (τιμάω) for respecting everyone, at the beginning of verse 17, is applied to honoring the emperor or king, which, at that time, was Nero.
Peter presupposes that there are practical degrees of honor, which are based on a person’s excellence or achievements and the kind of office he or she may hold. For example, the highest honor should be given to the Being that has the highest worth or dignity, such as God. There are also other kinds of honor, which are due to human beings. For instance, I honor a judge or the President of the United States, because of the high offices he or she holds, even if I do not agree, on moral grounds, with the kind of person he or she may be.
Respecting the Unrespectable
Sacred Scripture says that Jesus Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:6, NIV). There is, then, something redeemable about all human beings, (i.e., the image of God in the human person), even the most unlikable, undesirable, unlovely, disgusting, vile ones. Of course, such people are not to be respected, say, for the crimes they may commit. Rather, they are to be respected for God’s sake, sending his Son to die on the cross for their sins.
Summary and Conclusion
Therefore, “Show proper respect to everyone,” as hard as that may be and even when he or she, because of committing some evil act, is not worthy, on moral grounds, of respect. Like the Christian principle of “Love the sinner, while hating the sin,” honor the trace of good in him or her, the divine image, while not honoring the evil in his or her life.
Of course, what I am writing about, in many cases, is hard to practice, just as it was for the first century Christians, when they first read Peter’s message. However, it is an achievable, humanizing ideal, which, when practiced, promotes a more humane culture, a culture of respect and a “civilization of love.”