One of these days, I fear, I will be annoyed enough at some stupid, trivial news story to entitle a blog entry “Shut The (Eff) Up, All o’ Ya.” That would of course be lacking the usual nuanced style and panache that I like to display on these pages, so I will endeavor to resist the temptation, but please know that the emotion is often there, I’m just trying to restrain myself.
A recent example of this is the news coverage of President Obama’s visit to Japan, and more specifically, the fact that he bowed to the Japanese Emperor. Much ado, at least in some quarters, ensued. THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT SHOULD BOW TO NO MAN, they huff and puff. Lordy. I thank God on their behalf that some people are fortunate enough to have nothing better to worry about.
Look, I’m a fairly agreeable nationalist. I think whatever her flaws may be that the United States is on balance a damn fine country. I fly the flag on national holidays. Why do some think it deflates our greatness, whether as individuals or as nations, if we show respect toward others? This is at times a societal problem for Americans, I think; one that spans all the various divisional striations in our culture: Race, gender, income, political leaning, and so forth. Gender is probably the weakest of these, as this more often seems like a problem tied to machismo in those of us testoneronally-augmented.
I think people get lost in deference. That is, I think that people confuse the two possible definitions of deference; the first indicating a sort of submission or subservience, and the second being courteous regard. Because you are deferential toward another national leader does not necessarily indicate that you do not stand on equal (or indeed, greater) footing. It simply means you are showing courteous regard, and what the heck is so wrong with that?
People like to demand respect. People are less often concerned with displaying it toward others. That’s human nature, I suppose, and we certainly all have our failings in this regard. Seems to me, though, that if we’d like people who may not shake hands as a matter of custom (there are places where this is so) to shake our president’s hand, then we can, with courteous regard, perhaps do something that is not part of our culture as a sign of respect toward someone else, particularly when we are visiting them on their turf, for crying out loud.
I’ll admit that the photo is a bit odd looking, with Mr. Obama bent over almost 90-degrees. My assumption here, and I could be wrong about it, is that the point of the bow is to get your head below the level of the head of the person to whom you’re bowing. Well, let’s just say that the Japanese Emperor is a diminutive fellow, whereas our president is quite the opposite. He had to practically do Downward Facing Dog just to get down there! Perhaps if they’d given the Emp a hidden step-stool to mount for the photo op, it wouldn’t have looked quite so odd, but of course that wasn’t likely to happen.
Thus, you get commentators of varying degrees of legitimacy and/or sanity going on about how it makes the prez look ridiculous and that it’s unbecoming of our leader to bow to anyone. These people are dopes, at least about this, and it’s a lesson they should have learned in the sandboxes of their youth: If you want to have friends, you have to play nice. Sometimes that means playing by rules you may not entirely agree with. We need not steal the other guy’s shovel and bucket to show him how powerful we are, nor do we need to refuse to lend him ours because we’re just so darn self-important. In fact, when one’s power is as vast as that of the United States, is it not beneficial to be benevolent in our treatment of the other nations of the world?
I think it is. Do you honestly think that, thanks to the O-bow-ma, the people of Japan today think the U.S. is subservient to them? The Japanese have a lot of national pride. Americans are gaijin, to be sure—that is, not Japanese. But I doubt they hold many serious illusions that we as a nation are not worthy of respect. They probably ponder their status in relation to ours long-about every August, if I recall my history correctly. Nothing wrong with a little bow to them, even if it becomes a big bow thanks to the difference in statures of the bow-er and bow-ee.
So, shut the (eff) up, all o’ ya. And I say that with all due respect.