Mind Matters — Re-spect in the New Year?

Here it is: Winter solstice time, when the northern hemisphere faces the darkest days of the year with various celebrations of Light. Meanwhile, I sit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, awaiting the arrival of my first grandchild. When this column appears, hopefully she will have been born and we will all be headed into a new year.

What sort of a new year will it portend for the next generation? What will we bequeath to the newborns among us?

Recently, on a walk to Harvard Square, my son-in-law pointed out the beauty of a stained glass door he had not noticed even though he had passed it many times. This brought to mind for me, the word re-spect, which at its root means to look again, to see more fully. What is necessary for re-spect to flourish is an atmosphere of awareness rather than denial; consciousness rather than ignorance.

Ironically, less than a block from the newly seen door, was an installation at the Harvard Art Museum of Sister Corita Kent’s pop art.

As must every artist, Roman Catholic nun Corita, in the 1960’s to the 1980’s, re-spected the world and helped us all “see again.” However, her cultural icons spun the mundane signs of everyday commercialism and consumerism into sacred and social justice messages. She transformed advertising slogans and supermarket signs into modern art with a message. For example the 1960’s General Mills adage, “The big G stands for goodness” took on a God-spiritual-meaning for Corita.

Since Corita’s work also confronted ending the war in Vietnam, and racism and segregation in the United States, what would her projects reflect today? What would she want us to re-spect for the newborns among us?

Now I am studying ads and pretending to “channel” Corita. For a car ad that says “top of the heap” would she somehow invert the message to be about inequality? Wow, there is even a luxury car ad that shouts out, “Look twice.” Corita might straight forwardly employ this message to urge the views to pay attention to climate change before it is too late.

Or how would she transform a hamburger ad that states, “it’ll blow your mind away?” Would this prompt Corita to call us to expand our awareness?

Corita might enjoy working with an ad campaign that calls upon African American women to “imagine a future.” She would, however, ask everyone to imagine a future where discrimination is obsolete and where no one experiences dis-re-spect. She would counter denial of climate change too.

Maybe Corita would collaborate with Pope Francis and superimpose his words over baby ads: “human induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.”

What we choose to do now will reverberate for generations to come. Babies are indeed us!