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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 4, 2001
Latest update: February 4, 2001

Can We Codify Respect?

On Sunday, February 4, 2001:

Article in New York Times Magazine: In Lieu of Manners, By Jeffrey Rosen Illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia.

Jeffrey Rosen notes that the categorical regulation of all behavior is leading us increasingly into what Fellman describes as "adversarialism." We are shifting away from the use of interpersonal negotiation toward "chop off her head if she colors outside the lines." Here's how Rosen says it in his introduction:

"As trust in traditional authorities declines, we are increasingly turning to law to regulate the kinds of behavior that used to be governed by manners and mores. In schools, in workplaces, in churches and in politics, our interactions are increasingly conducted in the shadow of legalese. We are becoming a nation of separate, resentful, legalized selves."

The New York Times included a poll to readers on the Internet with two questions:

  1. Does the Legal system play too much a part in our everyday lives?

    jeanne sent in the following answer:

    Yes. By resorting to the legal system at even interpersonal levels, we are increasing the adversarialism of our sytem. Gordon Fellman, in Rambo and the Dalai Lama, speaks of the extent to which the adversarialsim and advocacy principles on which our system of justice is based, have permeated our interpersonal relationships. This is leading us away from a sense of caring, sensitivity to "Others," forgiveness, and communal understanding.
  2. Can we counteract it?

    To which jeanne answered:

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes we can counteract it, as illustrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I think there is hope in the simple willingness to listen in good faith to the validity claim of the "Other." And I believe as Archbishop Tutu does, that forgiveness is essential to interpersonal relationships and the community they bind together. Gordon Fellman makes an eloquent plea for a paradigm shift away from adversarialism towards mutuality. Jonathan Lear's (Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul) discussion of "knowingness," our need to know a definitive and limiting answer in place of the ambiguity of lived reality, all these suggest that we can counteract our overly hasty turn to adversarialism, on many levels, from the personal to the actual courtroom.