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Respect despite not understanding

In one of my favorite episodes of “Adventure Time,” Princess Bubblegum shows her friends Finn and Jake her developmentally-challenged brother, Neddy. When Finn and Jake question the differences between the two siblings, Princess Bubblegum simply says,

“People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out. We just need to respect it.”

This simple, poignant statement is essentially the thesis of my argument. There are an infinite number of things that we don’t understand, but our understanding of something does not determine its validity or whether or not it deserves respect. I don’t understand how quantum physics work, but it is still a valid concept nonetheless. To say that our understanding of an issue determines how valid something is an extremely self-centered and narrow point of view but a human one nonetheless. It is natural and human to base our opinion of something based on how well we understand it. It is a natural and human feeling to seek out information to help us understand something and accept it. But it is impossible for us to understand everything, and oftentimes, the process of trying to gain that understanding is hurtful toward others.

For the sake of example, let’s focus on the idea of gender. From arguments claiming that there are only two genders or that gender is fluid, I’ve struggled to make sense of what gender identity is and what is “right” or “wrong.” But one thing is clear to me: people take their gender identity seriously. It’s difficult for me to understand how non-binary or transgender individuals feel. I have never felt uncomfortable with my gender identity, but no matter what I feel or understand, there are people out there that feel this way about their gender, and they deserve respect as human beings. Although we should always try to make an effort to understand others, there is no obligation to seek out information to understand something or force ourselves to accept something we can’t understand.

There is an obligation, however, as a human being, to be respectful toward one another. And being respectful often entails prioritizing other’s feelings above our own. Empathy and understanding are often considered synonymous to each other, but I’ve found that, sometimes, forcing understanding and questioning others for the sake of our own perception is hurtful and ultimately, unempathetic. True empathy for others lies in having the capacity to think about others’ experiences from their perspective and, as a result, respecting their thoughts and feelings.

However, that doesn’t mean blindly accepting another’s opinions and their ideas. Additionally, there are many ideas that aren’t deserving of respect at all. The criteria for that varies from person to person, but one way to evaluate it is based on whether or not a idea deliberately seeks to hurt another. What “hurts” another person is often subjective, and it is ultimately impossible for there to be an objective, black-and-white formula to follow, though I’ve found that this method of evaluating certain ideas makes the most sense to me. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination are all ideologies that deliberately divide different groups of people and categorize them as superior and inferior, hurting the “inferior” group.

We can disagree with one another, but it is important to keep in mind how we communicate and express our opinions to one another. In the process of trying to seek out understanding, we must remember to respect each other’s boundaries and feelings.

By Natalie Jiang, Design editor-in-chief
Editorial cartoon by Amy Lo