3.b.3 – Respect for others is at odds with our freedom?

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March 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Respect for others is at odds with our freedom?

Within the crowded human society, the rules and customs related to cohabitation are seen as limits to individual freedom; we say that our freedom ends where that of others begins and in this ancient saying there are two profound truths: the first is that the respect of the others needs imposes limits on our actions, and the other is that the rules of social life, morality, tend to be overwhelming.
But let’s accurately consider whether the community has only negative aspects compared to our individual freedoms: we know that the group is one of our main strategies for survival, our core activities such as eating, wearing cloths and working, have always been carried out through direct or indirect collaboration of our kin; thanks to the community now we can also have homes with running water, toilets and electricity, we can communicate through telephones and computers, we can move with trains and airplanes, etc… How many things we could not do living alone? How much our freedom of action would diminish? Therefore, if on the one hand the society imposes us to inhibit a number of anti-social behaviors, on the other allows us to do a huge number of things, important or otherwise impossible and the balance is clearly positive. Respecting others also means respecting their sphere of freedom and then, in conditions of reciprocity, requires preserving ours as well.
It is therefore not correct to see respect for one’s neighbor as a limit to our freedom because, although it is true that it places limits, it also allows us to overcome many others, being one of the most important values related to the community; without it, living together would be impossible and we’d lose all those freedoms that society allows us. The respect therefore, besides being a social value and as such linked to the value of life, can also be seen as a support to the value of freedom.
It is important to stress that it makes sense to fix some limits in the name of respect of others only in cases where our action involves inconvenience, annoyance or harm to others; one thing is to suppress freedom of action, another is to limit it in special cases and with a good reason.
It must be admitted however that only a part of the rules of social life aim to the respect of people, many pursue other purposes and may become a difficult weight to bear; respect for others should therefore not be confused with respect to authority; obey the orders of a office manager certainly does not help to protect our sphere of freedom even in cases where it is right to do so. The original meaning of respect is to have regard, to take into consideration; respecting the others implies then to have respect for them, taking into account their needs; comply with an order or a law certainly means to keep them in mind, but in essence means to obey and nothing else. Clearly this second form of respect can be used also to support some impositions that go against freedom. There is therefore a substantial difference between respecting the rules and having respect for others, and this leads us to review in depth the value of law.

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