By Mark Azzara
Letitia Chai was deeply offended when her Cornell University professor suggested that she wear something more conservative than the too-short shorts she chose for the test run of her thesis presentation.
So, on the big day, she made a different choice. For the actual 15-minute presentation she stripped down to her undies.
The story on Yahoo had generated more than 13,000 responses by the time I saw it, and the actual presentation is available on Facebook. After that presentation many of Chai’s fellow students came to the defense – of the professor.
As the Irish philosopher Edmond Burke once said, “Manners are more important than laws.” Because we can enact almost anything into law we seem to believe that we no longer need to be governed by things outside the law – e.g., the respectful treatment of others.
How do you, if you’re a man, treat women? And does that differ from how you are supposed to treat them. If you’re a woman, flip that question around and apply it to men. Is your behavior governed by law? By your perception of your rights? Or by a concern for the other person?
If we cannot (or will not) take the responsibility to answer these questions then we risk relying increasingly on the law to define every nuance of human behavior, to the point where we lose contact with true freedom – the ability to make choices that support and enhance relationships.
At best, Ms. Chai had a debatable right to strip down to her bare essentials when making her report. But in doing so she lost the respect of those whom she treated disrespectfully, in an ill-mannered, I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-you way.
This is one more symptom of a much larger issue. Jesus calls us to “love one another” as he has loved us. To put the good of the other person first. To respect the other person, whether or not that person respects you.
This incident offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we are morally obligated to “love” those around us -those with whom we share no particular bond. To put the other one first, in other words. Not just those close to us, but all those who are anywhere in the vicinity.
I have a lot more to say about “love,” and I will, but not today. In the meantime why don’t we – men and women alike – spend some time thinking about whether the things we say and do in the company of others reflect love. Or something different.
All God’s blessings – Mark