The cultural divide


One of the subjects I like to talk about is something more or less called The Cultural Divide.

Aretha Franklin, the famous American artist and singer, had it right with her song – RESPECT.  The cultural divide, by which I mean, that illusionary perception that there exists boundaries or differences between us as a mankind or race, is illusionary, if not delusory, for the simple reason that with the exception of ethnic factors, that is, customs, clothing, rituals, beliefs et al, mankind IS mankind. You can put a different colour on a man’s skin, call him A instead of B, and assign all sorts of perceptive values or differences between one person or ethnic and another. Of course, there are differences but only in terms of quantitative factors which can be seen or measured. Under all of the trappings which we use to give ourselves unique and identifiable personality, is the exact, precise same quality – the spirit of a man or woman. We are the same species, in fact. And physical form aside, the innate nature of man, on a purely spiritual basis, is the same.

But there is a big difference between the diversities which define our ethnic values, whether black or white, yellow or bronze, Catholic or Jew, Muslim or whatever; and the quintessential or elemental factors which make us who we are.

Through the history books, one sees wars and conflicts between tribes, ethnics, nations, religious ideologies and other issues. In every instance, one could boil down the troubled brew, and eventually be left with the one factor which was missing and without which conflict, war, murder, genocide and all the other atrocities man commits against man, are possible…….


A criminal has no respect for others, and so he or she commits crimes – which leads to all manner of things.

Despots, tyrants, dictators such as we have seen throughout history and even in our contemporary times; those greedy men and women who oppressed the many for the benefit of the few, these people had no respect for anyone else. And as such, they proceeded to commit unabashed crimes against their fellow man.

When you see this behaviour, realize that the person doing it has lost their own self-respect, long ago.

When one person scoffs at another’s beliefs, that is disrespect. When one attacks another for their ideology, that is disrespect. When one steals another’s goods then one is showing a lack of respect.

It sounds terribly over-simplified, I know, but honestly, if you step back and take a look at the world around us, what is it that makes it work?

Is it the governments of our nations? Is it the laws? Is it the police? Is it money?

Certainly these things play their roles, but there is a far greater factor at work here. I challenge you to inspect our culture with your magnifying glass and you will see what is there, the glue that holds our culture together and that bonding agent is very much composed of a seven letter word – RESPECT.  When we drive safely down the road, with other’s lives considered, we are respecting them. When we make good on a business deal and deliver the product to a client, that is respect. When we stay true to our spouse and do not violate our marriage vows, that is respect. When we honour our word and refuse to lie or cheat, that is respect. When we do the right thing, when no one else is watching, that is respect, not only for humanity – but ultimately for ourselves.

And on this note, the criminal becomes a criminal the day that he or she no longer respects themselves. There are probably many sociological factors which people could throw into the pot to try and explain why people resort to criminality, but if society had an answer for it, our prisons wouldn’t be bursting at the seams with a growing populace of inmates. No matter what pressures a person is under, sociologically speaking, one has a choice to either go up or down, and the choice is always theirs to make. One either respects oneself enough to stay on a road of self-esteem, or one steps off that road, and commits the crime.

I recently watched a speech by a famous neurosurgeon in America who told his story of living in abject poverty, his mother struggling to keep food on the table, but a mother who also insisted that he read books. He went on to explain that in spite of his objections to her demand, he read those books and one day he realized that he could do something with his life and he went on from total poverty to total success. That is self-respect, but that also came as a direct result of his mother who respected him enough to keep his nose aimed in the right direction.

RESPECT is possibly, although I am sure this will be a moot point, the bonding agent which makes our society work. Our world is morphing very rapidly. Our borders are becoming more transparent and the IT age has levelled the playing field making human interaction unilateral and on an equal platform. Our world population is growing exponentially, and by necessity, we are forced to learn to rub elbows more and more.  Urbanization has necessitated that we learn to respect one another – but I suggest that we can actually use this factor to accelerate our humanity, our empathy, our ability to morph our culture and to reduce violence, conflict, war and perceived irreconcilable differences. If we practice respect for others, if we granted them the right to their beliefs and opinions, if we did not perceive them as essentially different from us and did not erect illusionary barriers in our own minds about their value, we would see an even better world in the making.

I am not suggesting that everyone should become like everyone else – or that customs or ethnics be watered down, not in a heartbeat. This is not about the paint on the canvas of life – it is about seeing through the colours and the shapes and forms, and looking at the essential beauty and artistry.

It takes courage to be able to truly respect everyone. On the same token however, the criminal, the dictator, the war lord, the murderer, the corrupt politician – they don’t respect anyone, and to the degree that we can move them out of the way, where they can’t hurt others or destroy the playing field, while fixing them as best as possible, then we can live at a level of mutual existence that becomes us as humanity.

The man or woman who incites others to go out and destroy people, to kill, or to hate, or treat another human being as less than themselves, THAT person has no respect for the true values of humanity and believe me, that person also does NOT respect YOU.

The cultural divide can only exist if we do not show and exhibit and practice mutual respect. But if we do then our overall culture as a race and as humanity will continue to advance to higher levels.

So, when someone stands up in front of you and announces his or her intentions to lead, inspect what they have done. Have their actions demonstrated that they actually respect other people, truly. Have they rolled up their sleeves and sweated it out in the name of others, of different creeds, ethnic background or even opposing ideology?  Look around you; if your peers are anxious or inclined towards rebuking and criticizing others, or back-stabbing, possibly you can point out this matter of respect. They might not like it, but in the long run, any man or woman who finds it necessary to disrespect his fellow human beings, is someone who in fact has lost their own self-respect to that very degree – so you would be doing them a favour, not a disservice by putting the cards on the table.

RESPECT is a powerful tool, because it packs a monumental punch.  By breaking down the barriers which inhibit mutual respect between us, we are essentially breaking down the walls which keep us separated and which justify war, crime, and ignorance.

Do the world a favour – RESPECT it!

Réal Laplaine is an author and motivational speaker.


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