Forgive me, My elders: Confessions from the Director

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Within Dance the Past Into the Future, the older generation clearly have parallel experiences. Most notably experiences of loss---of foods, festivals, and ways of life, like animal husbandry. But one loss in particular has a sting. It forces me to evaluate my own attitudes and behaviors, especially those of my youth.

Love and respect. The elders say it's almost gone. They say the two go hand in hand. "Without respect there is no love, and without love there is nothing." What about following your heart, as I hear so much about in the West. Will our hearts lead us to show great respect for someone else at cost to ourselves?

When people who have never met start saying the same thing, and when that thing is as weighty as, "love and respect are gone", I start paying attention. Our elders' extensive experience and observations enables them to act as social-doctors providing sobering diagnosis. Listen up, World, to our Turkish elders.

They say when love and respect were present, true community existed. People spent more time together--- more time discussing life instead of watching TV together. People would help each other. In the village they would share water for animals, not claim it and hoard it. "In the old days", when it was barley threshing time, for example, everyone would help one person one day and someone else on another day. When building homes, the whole neighborhood would carry wood from the forest up to the plateau highlands. 

I suppose this is similar to when I help a friend move apartments in America. It's usually a friend and not a random neighbor, though. One character said, "Nowadays, it's whatever I can accomplish on my own." That mantra sounds all too familiar. Again I find myself asking, what is progress, really? How should humans define a win for humanity, for self?

The above are clearly examples of living in community, in harmony. I want that. But what about showing respect in seemingly more trite ways, like taking off my hat indoors. I rejected that one growing up, thinking to myself, "Get over your illogical hang-ups, people! It's a hat! In other countries you cover your head to show respect!"

Love is an action, not just a feeling. If you've been in a relationship, you know this. Actions show both respect and love. Doing something out of respect also shows love. That's why they say the two go together. I understand this in the context of my marriage, but only sometimes in community. And I suspect I'm often blind to it within society at large. Why? What happened? My grandpa "got it", lived it and breathed it.

The Turkish elders explained respect like this: When dad comes home, stand up and don't sit down until he does. Straighten his jacket and shoes. Would I have wanted to do that in my teens? No. But how would I feel if my little ones grew up and did that for me? I'd feel like a king in my own tiny home. 

There's more: Don't light a cigarette while sitting next to your elders. By not crossing your legs and slouching when sitting next to elders, you show them respect. They see you sitting upright and know it's for them. 

Where are the roots of this loss of love and respect? I can point to cultural influencers like film---as far back as Rebel Without A Cause (1955), starring James Dean. Or to music of that era. Film and music usually add momentum to something that's already in existence within the culture, though. What about the 60's hippie movement? I can only see things from a distance that I didn't live through within my own culture. But I know those cultural factors influenced my parents and me. And we know American culture has global influence. How has Turkey been affected? Turkish audiences will have to explore this for themselves.  One interviewee claimed that in her youth they had no TV or internet, therefore they obeyed their elders. “Now the youth don't listen. They want to be like the cool people on TV.”

So, what now? Does anyone really want to regain the past or shape the future based on these older value systems?

Maybe the old ways were ditched for good reasons. But if we determine not to show respect unless someone deserves it, we can always find a way out. We can always accurately critique flawed human beings. So where is the line drawn? If we stop participating in showing signs of respect, at what point do we find we're “accomplishing only what we can do on our own” instead of as a community? Love and respect are the ropes that tie people together. I learn this from my own Faith, and I'm learning it from Muslim Turks 25+ years older than me.

Here's what I've learned after 4 years of living in Turkey: Showing respect honors someone; and honorable people show honor. So even if someone isn't fully deserving of honor you can show them honor because you are an honorable person. Those who receive respect shouldn't take it for granted or lord it over others. It's that kind of attitude and behavior that caused the recent generations to walk away from showing respect as it was seen "in the old days."

I'm not sure what the way forward is. These are just my reflections as I read through our documentary film's interview transcripts. I do want to say to my elders, forgive me for the sour attitude I had in the past. And to those who might show respect to me, I'm motivated to earn it and return it regardless of age, political or religious affiliation, ethnicity, or lifestyle. I can see that I don't have to like everything about someone or agree with everything they believe or represent in order to show love and respect.

The ropes of our community---love and respect---have been cut or are fraying. I hope Dance the Past Into the Future causes Turkish audiences to make conscious choices about how their society will change, instead of letting it slip away. For Americans, I don't have a sermon for us. I would just say, be honorable yourself and consider what that looks like in the way you treat strangers, elders, neighbors, friends, well... everyone!

This topic of Love & Respect is but one thread in a complex tapestry that is the northeastern Turkish culture, and that will become the Dance the Past Into the Future film. Going into the project I suspected that dialing-in to one people group's story might have global relevance, that the story's themes might stirs us all to consider what we currently have in our families and communities and to make it a point to pass on all that is good, noble, fun, and transcendent... while we still have the time. My speculations are turning out to be true.