This post is for my Aboriginal friends including Callum and Susan. I was emailed about a proposed Aboriginal monument in Armidale. I will do a post on that in another place. Following the email, I put a status report up on Facebook to test what I might say in response. There I said in part:
If it aids Aboriginal advancement, respect, pride and things like the rediscovery of language and the education of the broader community into Aboriginal life over the millennia, and especially if it reinforces other initiatives to encourage people to explore and learn, then it would be worthwhile.
A little later, I added:
Thank you, Callum. Just focusing on the word respect, maybe at some point I should do a post on the Aboriginal concept of the word respect. In my contact with Aboriginal people and especially communities, I have learned to use that word in a very particular way. It fits with aspects of Australian culture, but it is also very Aboriginal. The word comes up all the time, in every meeting. Its use reflects traditional Aboriginal culture, but also the treatment of Aboriginal people. I haven't actually seen anybody write on it, but I suspect that it's important. What do you think?
Both Callum and Susan liked this comment. This post is a response. It's not a long post. I'm just making a few simple points.
I have written in the past about what I perceive to be the decline in respect in Australia.
We talk about Prime Minister Gillard or Opposition Leader Abbott as Gillard or Abbott. We may have no time for either. But in talking in this way, we are disrespectful of and denigrate the positions they hold. Would anyone deny that those position are critical to our democracy and hence deserve respect regardless of the person who holds the office?
Take another example, the sometimes use by commentators of the word punter to describe voters. This is disrespectful and indeed contemptuous. I feel like throttling the speakers.
The word respect is central to Aboriginal society, past and present. Respect for elders, respect for traditions. This doesn't mean that you have to like the elders or even the traditions, but they deserve respect.
Over recent years I have been privileged to meet many Aboriginal people and to sit in on community meetings. When talking about the social disruption that has taken place in certain places over the last few decades, a common complaint is that the young have lost respect. They respect neither the elders nor the traditions. In so doing, they have lost their pride.
To a society in which respect is central, the sometimes contemptuous treatment of Aboriginal people by other parts of Australian society, public as well as private, is deeply hurtful. It hurts at a personal level, it hurts at a group level. I am not talking here about ethnic or racial prejudice, although that exists. Rather, a far more deeply ingrained unthinking that actually denies the validity of the Aboriginal experience.
Respect does not mean blind acceptance of existing structures or the past. It does not mean accepting gross wrongs . It does mean manners, politeness, thought for the other person. recognition of roles, traditions and institutions.
I think that Australia would be a lot better off if we as society adopted a little more of the Aboriginal concept of respect.