Twenty years ago I often asked my classes to reflect on how monkeys differed from people. The simplistic point I hoped would be thought provoking was that monkeys tend to imitate, whereas people—ideally– tend to differentiate between that which is worthy of imitation and that which is not. Being more thoughtful than monkeys, one might hope people would not do what is dumb merely because they were aware that someone else had set a precedent for “dumb”.
When a person disrespects another based on anything superficial, it should not matter who has done the disrespecting. If an unemployed person, a junior high student, a U.S. Senator, a criminal, or a corporate C.E.O. mocks another person for their occupation, religion, race, social station, or whatever, it shouldn’t matter who has behaved badly. Bad behavior is bad behavior, and there is no excuse for imitating it the way a monkey arguably might.
When confronted by ignorant intolerance, we can imitate, or resolve to respond more thoughtfully and become determined to treat all targets of unreasoned disrespect more respectfully than we may have in the past. This is possible even if we have always tried to treat people respectfully regardless of inconsequential differences such as the uniforms they may wear at work, the color of their skin, their accents, what they call the buildings they may worship in, or something else.
How we respond to bad behavior is a measure of our humanity.