How should we treat young people (or anyone)? Answers: respect, make society "rooted". (Long post.)
Rootedness: Here's Simone Weil's definition, from The Need for Roots (p.43, Beacon Press, 1952 ed.):
To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active, and natural participation in the life of the community, which preserves in living shape certain treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future. This participation is a natural one, in the sense that it is automatically brought about by place, conditions of birth, profession, and social surroundings. Every human being needs to have multiple roots. It is necessary for him to draw well-nigh the whole of his moral, intellectual, and spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a natural part.
She goes on to identify military conquest and money as things that bring the opposite of rootedness, uprootedness. People who have been uprooted can pass their uprootedness on to their children through their culture. Weil puts a high value on work and finding meaning in work. She suggests that one thing that would make work more rooted is if workers could see the things they work on being used. She also suggests that schools for peasants teach them science based around the lifecycle of plants and agriculture.
I don't know much about American Indian philosophy. Two Partially Examined Life podcast episodes (Part 1 and Part 2 of "Relating to American Indian Philosophy") taught me pretty much all I know about their philosophy. The thing that sticks out to me from that is relationality. American Indian philosophy contains the idea that everything is related to everything else. This sounds a lot like Weil's rootedness, worked into how we think about everything we see.
I had always been impressed by what I saw, from afar, as American Indian respectfulness. Not just respectfulness, but a lack of flippancy.
Rootedness breaks down when people don't take us seriously. When we are malicious, lazy, forceful, or merciless, we don't take people seriously. These are some ways to be disrespectful of other people. When we don't respect people, we betray them, destroying trust. This makes it hard for any kind of group to function. Background trust is destroyed, which makes it so that new relationships can't form.
The more damaged people are, the harder it is for them to endure social environments that aren't to their preferences. We think of preferences as based in ego, but they're also based in survival. People are individualists largely because they can't trust other people.
In a rooted society, there is a place for everyone. When we are given a place, we are given a relationality to other people, and in that, we are given respect.
The idea of boundaries connects.
In the West, we don't come from a rooted background. The West is pretty used to its own uprootedness. So we have to teach ourselves how to give each other a place, how to relate all the people to each other. But what's good about this problem, unlike many other problems, is that just about anyone can help with it. No matter where you fall on any given spectrum, there's probably someone who's sort of similar to you somewhere. Maybe, if nothing else, similar in their loneliness. People have called our society "atomized", but anyone can help make it more "composite".
How Can I Respect?
Which is worse, lack of love, or lack of respect? Which leads to more abuse? Probably lack of respect.
We sometimes view respect as optional, as something that needs to be earned. There are two kinds of respect: ego respect and survival respect. People fight to defend themselves, which is a fight to get respect. Egoistic self-defense asks for ego respect, and usually gets survival respect. Survival self-defense asks for survival respect. People who don't get survival respect get abused. People think it's their duty to oppose egoistic self-defense, but by breaking down other people's ability to defend themselves at all, they can destroy their ability to protect themselves from abuse.
Some signs of lack of respect for others:
You can see another's inferiority instead of them. Viewing a person in terms of their attributes, rather than as a person.
(When you think you're an "awesome guitar player" or "a really conscientious worker" or the like, you might not be respecting yourself -- by seeing yourself according to positive stereotypes.)
Making allowances for other people's inferiority.
Warning sign: feel a feeling of affection that you can't "unfeel", which is an emotional fact to you.
Warning: you think someone is cute.
Warning: you think someone is annoying.
Warning: seeing people as being in need of your help.
Warning: being magnanimous toward someone.
Warning: seeing someone as insufficient (weak, sick, immature, wrong, etc.)
Warning: being, or seeking to be, on another level than someone. (For instance, understanding them better than they understand themselves.)
Sign: seeing someone as useful.
Warning: seeing someone as helpful.
Warning: you think someone is beautiful.
Warning: you view someone as working through a process, rather than actually saying what they mean.
Warning: you form predictions of what other people will do or become.
Any time an attribute of someone impresses you strongly, it tempts you to see that instead of them.
Warning: when you don't understand someone.
Sign: you devalue respect.
Warning: you think ego is invalid.
Warning: you're a fake person, overall, or in some area of your life.
Warning: you're a lazy person, overall, or in some area of your life.
Warning: you're a cynical person, overall, or in some area of your life.
Warning: you have superior taste, overall, or in some area of your life.
Sign: you think someone else's desire to be better than they are is invalid.
Sign: you enjoy someone, you don't trust them, but you don't fear them.
Sign: you assume a position of dominance over someone else and you're okay with that.
Sign: you disassemble, soothe away, manage, other people's confrontations of you.
Lack of respect is a form of lack of trust. People who are not trusted have a harder time trusting themselves, and people who don't trust themselves can't behave as consistently. When people are respected, they behave in a way that's more objectively respect-worthy. Seeing the facts can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you like intellectual things, you can think of respect as being something like "apophatic anthropology". Or at least, that sort of indicates the right way. Apophatic theology involves seeing God as being wholly other than what we can say of him. But people who practice apophatic theology (I think) usually still think of God in the way he's described in scriptures or in their personal experience. On some level, he still has attributes, even though they try to deny them (I think) in order to gain respect for him. Apophatic theology is a formula, and so is the usual "God is love, God is powerful, God is ..." theology. The reality of God is beyond this. The answer's so far away -- but so close. God is just a person. Similarly with people.
If you like psychology, one idea that points the way to respect is "mentalizing". Mentalizing is the intuitive grasp of another person as a person, a mind with thoughts and feelings. In contrast, people can figure each other out in a "teleological" way. They put together a deliberate or semi-deliberate mental model of other people, just the same as they might figure out how an engine works. Teleological thinkers can be good at predicting other people, a lot of the time.
The analogy isn't perfect, because people can be capable of mentalizing and still disrespect people.
It's possible to be more mature than other people, or more skilled. This is a state which should fill you with something like sorrow, rather than triumph -- a quiet sorrow. And not a sorrow that the other person is so unfortunate, but rather that you are unfortunate. What you want is to be able to see the attribute or fact of someone's skills, be able to take that into account, while on the deepest level see them as equals and/or sufficient, or best of all, fail to see or trust the categories of "inferior", "superior", "sufficient", "insufficient", or even "equal" -- just you and them.
If you like intellectual things, you might want to read I and Thou by Martin Buber, who talks about these kinds of things in a philosophical way. He says there's such a thing as "I-You" relationships, where your pre-rational orientation toward others is that they are people. He contrasts that with the "I-It" orientation, where you see people as objects. He says that when you say "I" in "I-You" it's different than saying "I" in "I-It". It would seem from that that you have to heal your relationship to others and yourself simultaneously, that it's impossible to fix one without fixing the other, because they are actually one thing.
You can be hard on someone while respecting them -- probably the basic first step to full respect is to be hard on yourself and others -- valuing and practicing respect in an obvious way. But being hard on people isn't necessarily respectful. You can be merciless, which is a way of not seeing a person as a person.
Someone said that hope is a sense both of desire and likelihood, as though the two are a bit hard to distinguish. So we recognize that when people abuse each other, they do so out of a love of evil and a sense of power at the same time. So we try to break other people's sense of power, so that they don't do evil. Some people are capable of doing good while having a sense that there are no consequences, but not everyone is on that level. People whom you wouldn't think, need consequences -- people who wouldn't think they were the kind of people to need consequences. Enforcement makes us better people, better than we realize. This is relevant to the problem of young people disrespecting otheres.
People who genuinely do respect people are the ones in the position to break the power of other people -- something they do without any pleasure or deadness -- and to "put the fear of God" in other people -- something they do without malice, and, somehow, without being forceful or merciless, without writing people off.
If I give practical steps, people who are inclined to "work a program" will do everything but still miss the point. Sometimes the only thing that seems to teach people in a deeper way has to rewrite who they are on a flesh level. You have to be broken by life in order to start changing your mind. It's awful to really grow on a deeper level -- at least, it is for a lot of people. The Bible talks about "fools", who need correction and hate correction. What might work to avoid foolishness is to get the full value of being broken, rather than turning away from its lessons when you get back to health. That's hard, though, because life tells us to have power and power tells us to disrespect. You can try to get the most out of your pain, though.
One of the best ways to respect someone is to listen to them. One of the best ways to listen is to be silent. When you talk to people, be weaker than their words.
Maybe art can help. I wrote a short story as part of How Can We Love?, one of my books, which is about respect and disrespect, called "My Son". It's about how messed up a person can be by someone who doesn't respect them, and it's vivid. A narrative like that might help -- or it might be just more words.
One practice that could help would be focused contemplation. Spend two hours doing something relaxing and thinking about the different people in your life and whether you respect them. When you interact with people, ask God what lesson you need to learn.
Being careful not to believe false things can help you be more "epistemically empathetic", and this can help you take other people's beliefs seriously. If you hold yourself to know reality as it is, if that's something that has power over you, to which you submit, then you are more the kind of person who will try to find the reality of persons in themselves. We can never know reality in itself, in a way that we can put into words, and so it is with people. Trying in one domain helps in another.
One "bottom line" is: let other people have power over you. A form of trust. Trust people. People who don't listen may do so out of the survival distrust, or out of ego distrust, or out of inertial distrust, the distrust left over from survival distrust that is no longer necessary. But trust as much as you can. In religious terms, not trusting when you can is saying that creation is not good for a reason other than the Fall.
A corollary to that is: when you can't trust someone, stay away from them.
A Reading from The Need for Roots
The Need for Roots by Simone Weil, p. 134 - 136:
It is true that men are capable of dividing their minds into compartments, in each of which an idea lives a sort of life of its own, undisturbed by other ideas. They don't care for either critical or synthetic effort, and won't submit to making either unless obliged.
But in situations of fear, anguish, when the flesh draws back before the prospect of death, or too great a degree of suffering or danger, in the mind of every man, even if he is completely uneducated, a manufacturer of arguments suddenly stands forth, who elaborates proofs to demonstrate why it is legitimate and right to avoid that particular death, suffering, or danger. Such proofs can either be good or bad, depending on the particular case. At all events, at the time, the body's disturbed condition gives them an intensity of persuasive force that no orator has ever succeeded in acquiring.
There are people to whom things do not happen in this way. This is either because their natures protect them from fear, that their flesh, blood, and bowels remain unaffected by the presence of death or suffering; or else because their minds have attained such a degree of unity that this manufacturer of arguments has no opportunity of getting to work in them. With others, again, he is able to get to work, and makes his arguments felt, but they are scorned nevertheless. That in itself presupposes either an already high degree of inward unity, or else powerful outward incentives.
Hitler's profound remark on the subject of propaganda, namely that brute force is unable to prevail over ideas if it is alone, but that it easily manages to do so by taking unto itself a few ideas of no matter how base a nature, provides also the key to the inner life. The tumults of the flesh, however violent they may be, cannot prevail over a thought in the mind, if they act alone. But their victory is an easy one if they communicate their persuasive force to some other thought, however inferior it may be. That is the important point. No thought is of too inferior a quality for the role of ally of the flesh. But the flesh needs thought of some kind as an ally.
All of this to say: maybe there's something here to help us in developing respect. Respect is an attitude we have toward other people, most importantly a pre-rational one. It could be a passion of ours, some fleshly desire, which requires some kind of rational form for us to fully trust. It's not just pre-rational, but also an explicit belief. It could be that the passion of love for someone causes us to want to form the pre-rational attitude of respect. I think that's true a lot of the time. But warring with love is its appetitive side, the extent to which love is a form of enjoyment, or feeds enjoyment, or enjoyment is taken for love. Enjoyment is a passion that asks for disrespect to be formed. Likewise we have the passion of power, which casts about for a an idea or pre-rational attitude to justify it. So we might want to learn to be afraid, not of enjoyable things, but of our enjoyment of them, to enjoy things in holy fear, to only enjoy things because we have to in order to experience reality. And likewise to feel utterly undeserving of our power, like it ought to be taken away from us at any moment.
People can be very strong in their beliefs, as with those whose "natures protect them from fear, [...] their flesh, blood, and bowels [...] unaffected by the presence of death or suffering", whose "minds have attained such a degree of unity that this manufacturer of arguments has no opportunity of getting to work in them." In Weil's context, this helps people resist evil, but the faculties and dispositions for resisting evil can also be those of not listening to other people. People can be spiritually and psychologically muscle-bound. This is parallel to those who seem strong and combative who are actually acting out of trauma and thin resources. In both cases there is a tendency to lunge out. A very put-together person -- a secure, mature person -- can fail to pay attention to other people out of their mind's "degree of unity" -- and this is somewhat frightening, because one's own security and maturity are so persuasively trust-producing to oneself, that one won't think to question oneself. What is trustworthy is trust-producing, but not all trust is itself the most trustworthy, and people who get out of the habit of distrusting themselves are in danger of disconnection with reality. I suppose the positive way to put it is, keep trusting the process of better and better trustworthiness, keep trying to trust more, and in the process you will trust yourself less sometimes.
In trustworthy settings, we tend to trust, and when we trust, we can trust anything, including love -- which motivates us to respect. Or a setting could be useful for the purpose of developing respect. In this case it would be trustworthy in a limited way, for that purpose. A respect-producing environment might be one in which respect is modeled by those in positions of power, influence, or authority. Another respect-producing environment could be one that emphasized people's connection to other people, since respect is relational. Self-respect involves seeing the other as one who will respect you, as much as saying "You" involves saying "I" in the "I-You" way. In order to respect other people, see them as "you"s, you have to be different to yourself.
Another respect-producing environment would be one which emphasized reality, because fake respect is disrespect, and is where disrespect can hide in those who in some sense don't want to disrespect. But overall trustworthiness enables people to enter the general state of trust, out of which respect-producing motions can come. Therefore it could be counterproductive to try to make respect a formula for a group, a "core value". Overall trustworthiness, including respect, is needed for any group to function anyway.
Declaring core values, and that you're going to do things, is of some value, but what's more essential for trust, and respect, is your pre-rational attitudes, all the betrayals that don't happen because they're not in your nature to cause. Telling yourself that you want self-respect, that you want to be respected, doesn't do as much good as seeing other people as those who will respect you, and likewise telling yourself that you want to respect other people doesn't do as much good as just doing it. Talking about things can be a placeholder.
So an organization needs people who understand what is needed intuitively, and can embody what is required for a trustworthy environment.
To get back to the Weil quote one more time: in the last paragraph, she mentions that inferior ideas can be used by the flesh's needs. But perhaps good drives can annex to themselves inferior ideas. Perhaps that's an explanation for "faith", that God gives us a drive to believe, or God as he contacts us is the drive to believe, which attaches itself to inferior ideas. I don't think Weil believed that humans are unable to believe ideas because they are superior, otherwise, how could we think that any were superior to begin with? But it may be that ideas, as much as words, are not really the point, and that wordless, idealess realities are more important. But we still seem to need ideas for some sort of purpose. Words are useful in pointing out wordless realities. If I say "sky", you know what I'm talking about, more or less. I'm not talking about "s-k-y", I'm talking about ... I have to use words to describe the sky, but you get the picture: it's this thing that I can see but can't touch, which I can see above me, blue or grey or pink in the daytime and black or dark grey in the nighttime. Similarly with ideas -- they point to non-cognitive realities. Pointing something out can open a pathway to deliberate action, and can help us notice a phenomenon more often.
Belonging and Wider Rootedness
A person can be a word to us, in their image of personality, pointing to an unspoken reality, or a force or desire within us.
You meet someone who gives you a sense of belonging -- a "one-person rootedness environment". Through them, everything around you is home. You relate to other people through them, because they do, because of the home they bring you all around the very places that weren't home before. You are inclined to worship them and "eat" them -- to disrespect them.
Narrow-scale rootedness could be called "belonging". We seek belonging, and when we get it, we stop caring about society-wide rootedness. The desire to understand the big picture -- truth as a whole, society as a whole, the past and the future (the whole skein) -- can come out of a desire for rootedness, a kind of cognitive rootedness. God is connected to the big picture, and we connect through God through our connection to the big picture. The desire to relate to the truth as a whole, society as a whole, to God, can in fact often enough really just be a desire for belonging, and once we get belonging -- from a friend, lover, family, assembly, or whatever -- we lose interest in God, in society, in the truth as a whole. The most powerful and effective temptations are where a connection with a good thing destroys, mutes, quenches another.
There can be belonging based around uprootedness. Gathering and bonding while mocking the same things, forming gangs or armies. Young men are tempted to do this, naturally do this. We like people who are uprooted like us -- let's be uprooted together, as a song might go.
As a shadow -- or anti-shadow -- version of this, there can be a rootedness in a world beyond this world. This is like the moth flying to the star -- it doesn't feel the same to connect to what you can only see far away, as a point of light, which never warms you. This kind of rootedness helps you not be beguiled by belonging and the preservation of the status quo, which follows from belonging.
It's respectful see the danger in a dangerous person, the evil in an evil person, not only the good in them. So it's respectful to see the evil and danger in yourself, and not only the good in you, while also seeing yourself as Beyond Attributes -- as just a person. I think that's the most hopeful way to approach yourself, both if you're a young person or an older person.
The rootedness of childhood leads to the disrespect of the adolescent. The spiritual nourishment of a (relatively) protected childhood gives you "stores of fat" to fuel your disrespect as you enter the years where childhood order and restraint break down. Perhaps "stores of fat" disconnected from a source of nourishment just are the spiritual-fleshly condition behind disrespect.