How to Show Deep Respect

This week, Canada’s Governor General caused a stir because he touched the Queen of England during her visit to his country. He was only trying to ensure that the 91-year-old monarch did not take a tumble while descending a set of carpeted stairs, but still…there are certain things that are not done!

The episode brought to mind the ending of the 1956 film, The King and I, which is about how to show deep respect.

In case you’re not familiar with the plot, it takes place in 1862, when the king of Siam has hired an English schoolteacher, Anna, to help him modernize his country, especially by teaching his many children. Things go badly because Anna’s ideas are far too progressive for the king. Yet, he sees the good in her and she perceives how deeply honorable he is even if he can’t quite bring himself to accept her modern ideas. They come to love each other although neither dares to say so.

Nevertheless, Anna grows frustrated with the king’s unwillingness to change. The final straw is when he forces a girl into his harem in spite of the girl’s love for a young man. Anna implores the king not to do this, but he insists it is his right.

Unknown to Anna, her pleas have gotten under his skin, to the point where the inner conflict has torn him apart and he lies dying.

Having given up on changing the king, Anna is preparing to return to England. At the last minute, she gets word of his condition and visits his bedside. Take a look. In case you’re in a hurry, I have transcribed the crown prince’s speech after the video. He is telling his father, who dies in the middle of the speech, what proclamations he will make when he is king.

I would make second proclamation.
Regarding custom of bowing to king…
…in fashion of lowly toad.
I do not believe this is good thing.
Causing embarrassing fatigue of body…
…degrading experience for soul…
…et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
This is bad thing.

[To the royal children:]

There shall be no bowing like toad.
No crouching.
No crawling.

[The king expresses dismay that the days of showing respect for the king are over. The crown prince continues:]

This does not mean, however,
that you do not show respect for king.
You will stand with shoulders back…
…and chin high, like this.
You will face king
with proud expression…
…showing pride in self
as well as in king.
This is proper way for men
to show esteem for one another…
…by looking upon each other’s faces
with calmness of spirit…
…eyes meeting eyes in equal gaze…
…bodies upright, standing as men
were meant to stand…
…with dignity and awareness of self.

The Governor General would have made the crown prince proud. Surely he showed the queen more respect by assisting her than by letting her collapse in a heap at the bottom of the stairs!

What if you’re not Governor General of Canada? What if you’re just a mom or a dad? Do you want your teenagers respect you by addressing you as “ma’am” and “sir” and obeying like machines? Or would they do you a greater honor by conversing with you “with calmness of spirit, eyes meeting eyes in equal gaze… standing as men” respectfully expressing the opinions that they have grown perhaps imperfectly but in the fertile soil of reason and mutual respect?

And what about the Supreme Being who, if you believe in him/her/it, deserves more respect than anyone? If you buy the crown prince’s speech, would your comportment before God change?

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