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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, September 07, 2004
    My good friend Dot has started her own blog with a post on the subject of respect. Which resonates with me after Greenbelt, where at the entrance to Soul Space we posted a notice saying "You are now entering a quiet venue. Please respect the silence." And it struck me the key word in there was 'respect'; it seemed to express something of the experience people had during their time in there.

    Very hard to define, respect - I've spent time with Richard Sennett's complex but invigorating book on the subject today and am less clear about it than before: happily so. He suggests, from the sociologist's perspective, that aspects of respect include status, prestiege, recognition, honour, and dignity. And, from the musician's perspective (for he is that also) Sennett tries to explain the interaction between these synonyms by describing a performance of Schubert's Der Erlkonig by two great musicians, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the pianist Gerald Moore, an interaction of three characters (composer and performers) in which the complexities of mutuality play out in a sensitive and winning performance.

    This is a creative and enlightening way of trying to explain what respect is and how it works. In Soul Space it was more intuitive: expressed best for me in the way the children behaved in the venue. We had a regular group of young people who would be waiting for us when the doors opened at 9am, to get onto the 'colouring table', where they would spend long periods filling in black-and-white photocopies of celtic crosses, abstract designs, spiritual symbols using the felt pens provided. Unguided by our team, who would be on-hand just to support them if they wanted that, but who otherwise left them to get on with it in their own way. Simple but engrossing and for them a release perhaps, a form of contemplation perhaps, certainly something they valued.

    Also at 9am, our team would gather nearby for a half-hour of shared silence. I loved this rarity in an otherwise full and noisy day. And I loved the small noises off during that time - the squeak of felt-tips on paper, the childrens' small whispers which let me know they were respecting our silence just as we were respecting their space. The conscious mutuality of those moments made them very special to me.

    Sennett's search is for mutual respect in public life - specifically in proposing a welfare system based on respect. He rejects the prevalent idea that people earn respect by taking care of themselves. It does not go far enough; we are interdependent, he says: "individuals cannot sustain a sense of their own worth if institutions neglect them."

    Somewhere between neglect and nannying, somewhere between silence and the nuances of musical performance, respect lies. It's still an enigma; it's something to keep exploring.