Years ago, when I taught third through eighth grade Hebrew at a Jewish Day School, I had some situations with my students that would arise and I would need to think creatively in order to resolve them while building their self-esteem and facilitating their education.
One such situation concerning two boys had me trying every trick I could think of in the book and I consulted with other teachers as well. The boys had it out for each other and it didn't help that they both had different learning styles. Whenever they had a chance they would bait or pick on each other. I tried putting them on different sides of the classroom, but whenever my back was turned one of them would find some way to cause trouble for the other. Nevertheless I persevered in my attempts to resolve the issues so that their problems with each other did not disrupt the other students. Any momentary disruption was dealt with efficiently and class time was mostly peaceful.
Towards the middle of the school year I began working with several students on projects that involved the use of computers. In order to get to the computers we had to walk down the stairs where our class was located, to one long row of computers on the bottom floor. The boys in question were part of this group of students and I always kept them seated with several other children in between them.
One day the students finished their work early and as a reward I allowed them to take a break and socialize. While talking to a couple of students I heard the voices of the boys slightly raised. When I turned to look I saw that they were having a disagreement and quickly went over to them to intervene. Instead of separating them or ending their social time I decided to try a different approach. I asked them one simple question.
"Why should you respect each other?"
"What!?!?! WE DON'T NEED TO RESPECT EACH OTHER!"
"I don't have to have to respect him!" each boy stated vehemently for additional effect, and looked at me with their brows furrowed.
"Ok. That's fine. Can you tell me why you should respect me?"
Taking turns, the boys offered several reasons why they should respect me.
"You're a teacher."
"You're older than us."
"You're a woman."
Each time they gave me a reason I said, "That's good, but not what I'm looking for. Try again."
Finally they gave up and curious they looked at me and said, "Why?"
"If I was a horrible person, if you didn't like me, if I wasn't a good teacher (they started to protest and defend me as a teacher at this point) or if you didn't even know me, the reason you should respect me is because God created me and He has a purpose for me. This is the same reason you should respect each other. God decided to create you..."
"No! Our parents did that." each said in practical unison.
(I should at this point explain that Judaism teaches that parents are to be respected as creators of their progeny.)
I held up my hand patiently so that they would allow me to continue speaking.
"Yes, that's true, but if God hadn't helped, your parents wouldn't have been able to do that. Anyway, God created you and if each of you were important enough for Him to create, that should be enough reason to respect each other. When you disrespect each other it is almost as if you are saying that what God created isn't worth much, and when you do that you are disrespecting God as the Creator. Now, please be nice to each other while we have time left."
The boys were silent. I took this as a positive sign and walked away to let them think it over.
Over the years I have mentioned this conversation to several people and most of them have told me that I shouldn't be so deep with children of that age. My thinking is that children are capable of understanding much more than we give them credit for and we should give them the opportunity to prove it. In fact, many years later whenever I run into these two boys in the company of each other they seem to be almost best friends, cutting up and enjoying each other's company. I like to think the heart to heart discussion I had with them was the catalyst for the friendship they enjoy today. I also feel very satisfied that the naysayers don't know what they are talking about when it comes to children understanding deep, philosophical matters.
A great rabbi in Jewish history is Rabbi Hillel who taught in a compassionate and thoughtful way. He was well known for drawing people with love and won the hearts of those who came to him with questions or for help. A saying of his, "That which is hateful to you, do not do do to others" (Shabbat 31a)* and a passage from Leviticus 24:10-21 is the basis for my beliefs on respect of other human beings. The saying of Hillel is easy to understand. Don't treat other people in a way that you don't want to be treated. This is the Golden Rule, right?
Leviticus 24:10-21 deals with a difficult passage in which the son of an Egyptian man with an Israelite mother got into a fight with an Israelite. During the fight the son of the Egyptian blasphemed God and cursed. He was locked away and all of Israel asked Moses what to do with him. While some people might have trouble with the punishment that was meted out, if one looks closer (as I did) it appears there is more to what happened than the son of the Egyptian blaspheming God. Several laws are given in verses sixteen through twenty-one including the following,
Anyone that blasphemes God is to be put to death.
Anyone that hits a man mortally and as a result kills him, he is to be put to death.
Anyone that hits an animal mortally (not for food), and the animal dies, the person has to make good, or in other words reimburse.
From the story it seems that some sort of bodily harm was inflicted on the Israelite man and although the story doesn't tell us what happened, I believe he may have been killed. In light of the subsequent laws given I see a clear correlation between bringing death to a person or an animal to blaspheming God. If God is the Creator and He created men and animals one could draw the conclusion that bringing harm to His creation is in essence a type of blasphemy, or at least a great disrespect to Him.
Today we have rampant disrespect of others in this world. Violence is everywhere and once people decide not to like someone they also seem to believe that this person is now not worth any respect. The decision to not like a person could be based on any number of reasons such as appearance, the color of their skin, their political ideology, or even their religion. The problem with that thinking is this, every person is unique whether they are liked or not and should be valued as such. If they weren't important, God wouldn't have seen fit to give them life. With that in mind, and especially if one believes in God, the least amount of respect a person should receive from another is the respect he/she deserves for being created and valued by God. I believe if people learned that everyone is deserving of this amount of respect many of our societal problems would be resolved and people would learn to be friends, or at least act towards others in a manner that says, "I not only respect you, I value you as a human being."
Sarah Rezonzew is a Holistic Healh & Life coach specializing in online and in person coaching, helping people achieve growth, attain their goals and obtain balance in the areas of health, spirituality, career/finances and relationships. Her website offers resources and courses dealing with these four areas and subcategories such as weight loss, fertility, joyful living, personal development, personal growth, healthy communication and more. You can reach her by visiting her website Your Next Best Life or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org