Who’s Wrong and Where’s the Respect?
I was on my way down the stairway to the lower yard, heading toward the San Quentin newsroom, when I was approached by a young man who said he read and liked the “OG” news column.
He was clearly agitated and wanted to get something off his chest. He looked at me and said, “Some of these ‘OGs’ around here don’t deserve no respect!” he complained. “If you don’t give none, you don’t get none. That’s what I think!”
I stopped and listened as he continued, “Some of these ‘OGs’ around here think that these cells belong to them. They moved me in with this ‘OG,’ and from day one, I tried to show him some respect because of his age. And since he was older and in that cell first, I even tried to work my schedule around his program and give him more than enough alone cell-time. I know he’s old and set in his ways, and he’s got all these f—ing cell-rules that he expects somebody to obey. But I ain’t the one. I ain’t gonna just let him disrespect me. I don’t care how old he is! Now you tell me ‘OG,’ who’s wrong in that situation? Where is the respect?”
“How old is he?” I asked
“He’s around 40 or 50,” he said.
In between the lull in his venting, I asked “how” or “if” the situation had been resolved.
“It’s been resolved as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Rather than argue with this fool or bust him upside his old head like I was thinking to, I just went on, gathered my things and got myself moved out to another cell.”
I listened to this young brother as he described his situation. He wanted me to know that his encounter with this one “bitter OG” wasn’t an isolated incident.
“There’s lots of ‘OGs’ around here who don’t deserve no respect,” he said. However, he also wanted me to know that there were some “OGs” he respected, but that they were definitely in the minority here at San Quentin.
When he finished expressing how he felt about his former “OG” cellmate, I asked him if he had any questions or a particular issue he wanted me to speak to or put on the table, but I already knew what to say. I already knew what he was thinking…
While initially the young man wanted to know “who is wrong,” I don’t believe that’s the real issue. It’s not a question of who is wrong — the young man or his “OG” cellmate — it’s a question of what is wrong. And what’s wrong is two grown men being forced to live together in a cage half the size of a small bedroom closet. Such a condition, by any stretch of the imagination, is certainly not conducive for a harmonious relationship between any human being.
I believe if we begin the conversation with the understanding that our living arrangements are not ours by choice, we begin to understand that when you cram two people together in such small quarters, regardless of how compatible they might be or you think they might be, it requires mutual consideration and tolerance to make it work. It demands a great deal of patience for two people to make compromises and navigate peacefully inside such a restrictive space. The issue of respect becomes critical.
However, the need for respect is not just limited to men and women locked up in prison. This lesson can apply to any situation. We can see from the nightly news that many, many people struggle to respect others even when they do not live in a cage. The amount of gang and domestic violence, child abuse, or just plain rudeness and hatred on the streets is massive. Thus, the two critical questions I ask myself are: (1) Where does respect come from? and (2) How do you manufacture respect for someone when you’re not feeling it?
From an OG’s perspective, I believe the nature and quality of respect is rooted in the inherent worthiness of all humans. Having respect for someone is different from having manners. It’s much more than being kind, courteous or polite at any given moment or occasion. Rather, it’s an “inalienable” human worthiness that we all possess and which cannot be denied or diminished by social status or any other distinguishing characteristics and condition. This is why cultivating self-respect is so necessary as a prerequisite for appreciating human worth and extending it to others. A respectful person is one who has the moral consideration and human sensitivity toward others that one wants for him or herself.
Not at all surprisingly, it would be difficult to manufacture respect for someone when you’re not really feeling it. And even if you do manage to fake it, it’s not sustainable, especially when you consider the person you’re interacting with as less than humanly deserving of your respect. But when we value, honor and respect the full potentials of all human life, then we begin to value, treat and appreciate our fellow human-being as we each would like to be treated and appreciated. It becomes a spiritual practice based on human dignity and the benefit this knowledge and understanding brings to any relationship.
Thus, it’s a practice not simply to manufacture respect, but to love being respectful. For it seeks to establish a moral agreement based not on cold calculation or rule and duty, but on the dignity and benefit it brings to both the respectful and the respected.