Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Religious Freedom, Roe v. Wade, and Right v. Left 2020

Soon the U.S. Supreme Court will review an abortion case. As an npr broadcast informs us, this is the week, 47 years ago, that the court made the Roe v. Wade decision.

The Disestablishment of Christianity in America

Like others, I think the 1973 decision was the “Wake-up call” for American Evangelicals who could see a trend toward a more secular American society. I suggest the recent beginning of the trend was the 25 June 1962 decision by the Supreme Court that judged a New York prayer as a violation of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution (See Engel v. Vitale). The next year, 1963, the court ruled against Abington school district’s practice of saying the Lord’s Prayer and reading the Bible (See Abington School District v. Schempp).

A Tough Yet Sweet Pill to Swallow

The small pill that started a revolution. I’m exaggerating of course. But it’s hard to ignore the contribution of the birth control pill to undoing the power of sexual purity preaching by clergy in many religions including Christianity. The pill was arguably one of the best contraceptives to come along. It was approved in 1960 (see pbs for a history of the pill) and faced considerable opposition through the 60s even as Christian and non-Christian women embraced it in huge numbers. It was 1968 when Pope Paul VI published his manifesto opposing the pill. Birth control wasn’t just for married women anymore. It didn’t take long for teens to figure out they could enjoy sex without the consequences of creating a child or remembering to buy a condom. Yet for some thinkers, the pill contained implications for life. While abortion ended a life in process, the pill prevented the beginning of life. Note also, that early on, life ethics were the focus of Catholics rather than the Protestant Evangelicals.

Moral Majorities and Minorities

It was 1979 when Rev. Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority, which was devoted to promoting conservative social values in the political arena. Falwell pointed to the Roe v. Wade decision as a focal point, but of course that was six years ago so, not exactly a next-day reaction. Next year, Ronald Reagan became president. His ties to Christianity were obvious in his calls for a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in schools (Ed Week, 1982). By 1989, Jerry Falwell announced the closing of the Moral Majority organization. Since then, a variety of other groups have continued to extend the legacy fighting for laws that reflect conservative Christian values.

The Rainbow and the Flood

As the right-left tug of war continued over one issue or another, one Supreme Court ruling blew the roof off the American Ark of religious safety as if a flood had buried Christian culture. It was 26 June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. The rainbow flag waved from sea to shining sea (see gay marriage story on history.com).

The Right Rises Again, But Only So Far

So, we come back to the present. I’m at a disadvantage because I’m neither a sociologist nor a historian. As a psychologist, I know it’s difficult to predict human behavior. My impression is that a substantial portion of humanity will always be religious, but the varieties of faith traditions ensure that at least a modicum of religious tolerance is vital to avoiding bloodshed.

In keeping with American capitalism, religious organizations will continue to compete with each other for membership and charitable donations. Even in Christian America, there is a substantial variety of groups or denominations holding out their distinctives and inviting people to visit their services and events. Many do link themselves to meta-groups like the National Association of Evangelicals. Here they can share common beliefs and values. Nevertheless, the groups retain their individual identities, which influence the identities of their members.

In a pluralistic and competitive context, infighting is sure to continue for centuries in any semifree society (no society is ever free from all rules and regulations).

Religious freedom is both the blessing and bane of religious groups.

Sacred texts & prayer

They may only advance their values and rules so far before another group cries foul. Thus, sacred texts and religious prayers are allowed in schools as long as the school is not promoting one religion to all students. One student may pray for help on a test. Another may cry “omg.” And another may join with friends and read their sacred text. That’s religious freedom. Before 1963, religious freedom was exclusive. Since 1963, religious freedom is inclusive.

Religious freedom is inclusive.

Pregnancies and Emotion-linked Arguments

The battle over the rights of the unborn to life will also continue (e.g., Decision, 2020). Extremists will lose. Humans are naturally disgusted to see human body parts and tiny babies destroyed. The religious right tapped into the powerful emotion behind the morality to target our human motivation to protect the vulnerable among us.

Reasoned arguments are for judges—not the populace.

But judges aren’t devoid of human emotion and the pull of family relationships. The religious left has agonized over their dual concern for the lives of the unborn and the lives of teen mothers who have become pregnant due to rape, which ought to be equally disgusting. This is where some right-wing extremists miss the emotional point—they focus on the fetus and appear to forget the anxious girls who must give birth if there is a 100% ban on ending all pregnancies (e.g., elementary school girls).

I think it instructive that despite the Republican party platform's prolife stance, when they controlled the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives in 2018, they did not pass a ban on abortion or a bill limiting abortion to 20 weeks. They did send conservatives to the Supreme Court, but the votes show that not even the "prolife party" members have mixed views when it comes to a total ban (abortion ban fails..Senate).

Gay Rights

I’d predict the rights of sexual minorities are here to stay. So many Americans have come around to supporting people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian. Last year, American support for gay marriage stood at 63% (Gallup, 2019). The battles won’t end (e.g., Decision, 2020). Civil rights for minorities always take time. The harsh attacks on homosexuals as sinners won’t end soon. That’s part of religious freedom too. Those who remember the battle over World Vision’s flip-flop decision over same-sex marriages (The Atlantic) know that money has the power to change values. That's part of freedom and capitalism as well.


As long as we live in a constitutional republic with a representative form of democracy and a regulated form of capitalist economy, we’ll surely be among the luckiest people on earth. 

Freedom of Speech, the Press, Religion, and more are in the amended constitution (Bill of Rights). 
You’d be forgiven if you thought America’s famous “Four Freedoms” is not a list from the Constitution but part of FDR’s famous speech in which he forgot number five (politico). 

Nevertheless, I think it part of human nature to seek freedom. Sometimes the battle for freedom leads to chaos and sometimes freedom lovers fight wars against those who would enslave them for religious or political reasons. But for now, we have considerable freedom compared to people of yore. 

May we never bow to potentates who would impose their not so privately held beliefs to stifle freedoms that do not harm our neighbors.

A Related Book


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Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Paradox of Hope at Advent

I’ve been thinking about hope this year. I wrote about hope in Living Well. And I‘ve studied hope based on Charles R. Snyder’s hope theory.

I’m writing about hope because I am organizing some thoughts about hope as found in the four themes of advent: hope, peace, love, and joy. Although typically depicted by four candles around a Christ candle in a wreath, I think a diagram makes more sense, though clearly less picturesque.

The Christmas story links hope to Mary's child, Jesus. When he arrives, he comes with a message of love, which is linked to joy and peace. Then, the paradox of hope occurs. When the hoped for person arrives, hope ends. That's the paradox. Unlike hope, if true hope is fulfilled, we experience lasting love, joy, and peace.

Hope is powerful when Snyder’s identified twin components are present: (1) a goal, which is a focused desire that energizes our quest and (2) a pathway to reach that goal. I put hope first for two reasons. First, hope has content. In the advent tradition, people hope for joy, peace, and love. And in Christianity, that hope is embodied in Jesus presented as a baby. The whole scene is easy for most of us to appreciate. Parents and grandparents look forward to the birth of a child. When the baby arrives, and mother and child are safe, there are many positive emotions. Central is the love of mother for her child. And simultaneously, there is joy and peace. Love radiates among those present. Family members want to hug and hold the newborn. Joy is evident on the faces. And there is peace of mind when all are safe and well.

My second reason for putting hope on the outside is the paradox of hope. When the desired person has come or the hoped-for event has arrived, hope is gone. The paradox of hope is that it always has an end. We are now left with the reality of the person or event. Christmas has come. Will we experience the complex of joy, peace, and love? If so, hope has been fulfilled.

Of course, it won’t be long before we hope for something else. And embodied in that hope is a fear, a worry that things might not turn out so well. Sometimes that happens, which is the downside of hope represented in that troubling quote attributed to Nietzsche: 

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”

There is a warning against giving people false hope, which truly leads to mental and spiritual struggles. True hope keeps people alive and motivates a quest for fulfillment. When realized, true hope yields wellbeing. False hope produces anguish and leads to despair—hopelessness.

More about hope

Snyder’s concept of hope can be seen in the Hope Scale, which has two components. The Hope Scale post also includes a reference to Snyder’s book on hope.

Read more about Snyder's hope theory at Hope Theory.

Find out how hope is related to positive counseling and psychotherapy outcomes in one of our studies. It is a free download.

Read about faith, joy, hope, and love in the book, Living Well.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

2019 in the USA Massive Survey of Attitudes and Opinions

The Economist/YouGov Poll takes the pulse of several attitudes relevant to the leadership and direction of the United States. This poll is from November 2019.

There are lots of interesting data in the 457-page pdf report, which is much more than I would care to blog about. However, those who teach statistics and research methods may find the data interesting to some students. And others may just find the results interesting for a myriad of social media posts—like this one. (Scroll down for the viral post about the best president--Lincoln or Trump.)

Are we on track or off track?

The survey begins with a railroad journey metaphor. Are we headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track?

Overall, most Americans say we’re off on the wrong track, 56%. Only people in related grouping variables think we are going in the right direction (Republicans, Trump voters, conservatives). People in the other grouping variables report being off track (gender, age, race, income, region, registered voters).

[Now for a lesson—please ignore if you are not interested in stats and research. In the behavioral sciences, the terms male and female refer to sex, not gender as the pollster’s reported. Age groups are interesting but arbitrary. The labels below “race” probably should be called ethnic groups and nowadays so many of us have a mixed heritage.]

Who are our friends and our enemies?

What do Americans think about people in other countries, that is, are they an ally, friendly, unfriendly, an enemy, or not sure? An interesting question with the aforementioned categories available for those wanting detail.

   BEST FRIENDS (my label based on over 75% responding as "ally" + "friendly"): 
            Canada 85%, United Kingdom (77%)

   Generally fine: Israel (64%), Japan (72%), South Korea (65%), Mexico (58%), France (74%, close right?), Germany (70%)

   Not so good: China, Iran, North Korea, Russia

   Quite mixed: Saudi Arabia, Ukraine

  • I’m thinking English speakers are winners. Perhaps the perception of understanding helps? And, old combatants are just fine—Japan, Germany. France should probably be up there if I considered margin of error.
  • Also, rhetoric works when it comes to those nation not faring so well in the eyes of the American public.
  • Worth a look—if you have time, it’s worth a look to see how Americans in various categories view other nations. Some countries like the UK do well in many categories e.g., Clinton (86%) and Trump (89%) voters. But, look at how 2016 voters favorably view Mexico: Clinton 78% vs. Trump 56%.

How important is it if other countries interfere with our elections?

Interference matters a lot to most Americans, 66% and 25% to some, but 9% responded it “Doesn’t matter at all.”

There's so much more

There’s a lot more to learn about attitudes toward government leaders and beliefs about Russian or Ukrainian interference in U.S. elections.

And there are details relating to impeachment—the interest level of Americans in the hearings is quite divided overall: Very 30%, Somewhat 33% and Not interested 37%. A lot of pages deal with the impeachment hearings and testimony. The perception of witness honesty is great stuff for psychology students. Trump supporters remain supportive and loyal.

There are some interesting questions about the favorability of many politicians in addition to the president e.g., Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren.

Trust in Government

There’s agreement (sort of) among the party members in responding to the question: How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right? For the response, “Just about always” Democrats 6%, Republicans 5% and for the choice, “Most of the time” Democrats 25%, Republicans 19%.

Crooks in DC?

Overall, most Americans believe there are “Quite a few” crooked people running our government (63%).

How smart are our leaders?

About half or us think government officials don’t know what they are doing (51%), 21% aren’t sure, and 28% report they “Know what they’re doing.”

Are we better off now than four years ago?

It’s a close split with 37% believing we are better off now and 42% thinking we were better off four years ago. You might guess there’s a political divide here—see page 120.

Predictions—the 2020 election

I like predictions. I suppose it’s human to try to predict the future despite the fact that polls can be wrong—especially this far from the election.

About Trump

Given all the stuff about impeachment, it’s natural to wonder if people think Trump will lose the 2020 election. Not unexpectedly, Americans are divided with 55% on the likely side and 39% on the not likely side. I have a problem with the wording here. Participants can get confused with negatively worded questions. Check it out on page 130. Republicans strongly support Trump compared to Weld and Walsh.

The Democrats

Currently, Democratic voters are likely to vote for the following: Warren, Biden, Sanders, or Buttigieg. Warren and Biden are close. Younger voters prefer Sanders. Black and Hispanic voters prefer Biden. Joe Sestak doesn’t have much support. Have you heard about him?
There’s a lot more in this section dealing with political candidates.

About the UK (nice of them to ask)

There are questions about American perspectives on the UK. How does the Queen fare? Quite favorable it seems—69%, only 12% unfavorable. And Prince Charles? Not so well at 42%, but not so bad (34% unfavorable). Prince William beats his dad at 63% favorable and Kate’s a winner too at 61%. Prince Harry ties his brother at 63% and his wife, Meghan does ok at 58%.


So, this datum made headlines: 55% of 2016 Trump voters believe Donald Trump was a better president that Lincoln.
Overall, Americans endorse Lincoln at 75%. See page 267 for details.
George W. Bush does better than Trump overall (62%) but not among 2016 Trump voters (78%). 

However, Regan trumps Trump overall 78% and among 2016 Trump voters, 60%. It’s interesting to see how others fare e.g, Eisenhower.

[Student note: Datum is the singular of data, but you won’t see that in most news stories where writers write “data is” instead of “data are.”]

I write about surveys. Here's my ad, buy Creating Surveys on AMAZON worldwide.

Very Important Issues-- Here's the percentage rating an issue "very important"

Economy 70%
Immigration 52%
Environment 50%
Terrorism 57%
Gay rights 23%
Education 59%
Health care 69%
Social Security 66%
Budget deficit 46%
War in Afghanistan 29%
Taxes 57%
Medicare 62%
Abortion 45%
Foreign policy 41%
Gun control 55%
International Trade & globalization 36%

[Question: Based on the data, what would you expect politicians to talk about?]
I’m thinking savvy politicians will say different things to different audiences—especially likely voters in states with large electoral college votes.]

Even more stuff

There are pages on pages of data about the issues and how they are being handled. Of course, you could also see the details by level of importance and category of participants.

Several pages ask for opinions about Trump’s personality characteristics such as “bold” and “inspiring.”

Stock Market Predictions

Only 22% believe the market will be lower next year. I think this is a fool’s game, but people with retirement funds hope for the best. Even among those with 100k or more income, only 25% predict a lower market. By the way-- the market is down two days in a row as I write! [Almost done, page 441 of 457.]

Your job

Very few people are unhappy with their current job (9%) or very unhappy (5%). That’s good news for most people and their companies. I wonder what the 26% “very happy” people are doing.

A few facts about the survey on page 457.

Dates 24-26 November 2019
The survey was a stratified random sample.
The sample size of 1500 was adequate.
Registered voters were 1189.


The internet may have limited participation.

I don’t know how they corrected for response set and response bias. Check out the link for more information on problems of bias in surveys.

I could have made a mistake in reporting the numbers. Kindly let me know so I can correct any errors.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reverse Advent Calendar Expressing Gratitude and Generosity

Image result for helping poor newborns

I first learned about a Reverse Advent Calendar from English friends who were collecting items for a local charity. There are several helpful sites online, which offer ideas on how to create your own calendar.

The idea is to help children approach Christmas with an attitude of giving rather than getting. Of course, the lesson is important for adults as well.

Families can do something as simple as putting a pound or dollar (or more) in a container each day, which will be donated to a local food pantry or other community charity at the end of December.

Another approach is to place food items or clothes in baskets for each day leading up to Christmas and donate them to a charity.

Another suggestion is to organise four bags or baskets to hold items related to nativity themes as suggested by https://buildfaith.org/reverse-advent/. The themes focus on the newborn Jesus and his need for food, warmth, care for the parents and care for the newborn. These themes translate into food, clothes, toiletries, and baby items.

Likely some readers will have other ideas.

Engaging children in the nativity story might have better learning benefits than would simply reading the story, hearing an advent message, or watching a play.

You could meditate on frankincense and myrrh, but you could also deliver diapers, blankets, and tissues may be more useful.

The activities likely promote gratitude, generosity, and empathy, which is an aspect of love and compassion.

Read more about gratitude, generosity, and compassion in Living Well available from AMAZON

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Why is Queen Elizabeth II so popular? Psychology of Leadership

On Remembrance Sunday, I shared a post about Queen Elizabeth II being the only living Commander in Chief who served in World War II. As a young woman she served in a way that women were welcomed in uniform in those days.

What amazed me is the number of people who gave my post a like or "love" in a short period of time. At one point, the post got a positive click about every minute, which is much higher than my usual posts. Of course, the group was composed of people of British origin. Still, the question may be asked why is she so popular? And, is there anything leaders may learn from such high levels of public support?

Oh, by the way, Queen Elizabeth II and her family are of great interest to many Americans as well so, it's not just the British.

Princess Elizabeth WW II service

The Queen's popularity ratings run above 80% in various surveys. That's high for a national leader. Most leaders won't be kings or queens or even presidents or prime ministers so, what seems to work?

I have written a few posts about leadership. A recent one provides a list of what people respect in a leader. In this post, I'm going to look at Queen Elizabeth II and possible reasons for her enduring popularity.

1. Military Service. Military service in itself probably accounts for a meaningful percentage of her popularity in the UK and in many of the Commonwealth countries. She "did her bit" as the British say. There are a lot of veterans, so there must be more to her appeal than military service.

2. Identity. The Queen represents the UK. She's not just a symbol like a mammal or bird on a coin or an official seal. It's far easier to identify with a person, if the person has qualities you respect. A head of state can make people feel proud or ashamed of their country. This feeling can be personally experienced when a number of people within and outside your nation respect or disrespect your head of state. I think this is true for corporations having respectable figure heads. Identity is an argument for keeping some people on a board even when the day-to-day business is run by lesser known officials. Companies and organizations with good reputations tied to a respected leader may wish to think how they manage retirement and leadership transitions.

3. Appearance. Leaders are expected to appear a certain way in any given culture. The Queen appears as a dignified and kindly grandmother. At times, she wears a crown, which adds to the value of her appearance. However, not all cultures respect older citizens. So, the elegant grandparent only goes so far. Age is only one factor. People have expectations of the way their leaders should dress and behave. Appearance matters despite its superficiality. But appearance is relevant to one's group. The expected appearance of music stars, tech industry leaders, and religious leaders can be quite different.

3. Wealth. People in many cultures respect wealthy people. The Queen's jewels, palaces, and castles represent wealth. She has a decent income from her investments. She's not wealthy like an American billionaire but she does very well. And she has an acceptable attitude--she doesn't draw attention to the wealth. People used to think wealthy people were blessed by God or gods. Perhaps they still do.

4. Confidence. She's met a lot of world leaders over the years. And she's met a lot of children and people from many cultures. We expect leaders to show confidence. Confidence can be learned through experience in meeting people and giving talks to various audiences.

5. Commitment. We respect leaders who are committed to their country or organization and to their assigned tasks. Queen Elizabeth II certainly meets these expectations. You don't have to be a royal to demonstrate commitment.

6. Authentic faith.  From what we can see, Queen Elizabeth's faith is genuine. Of course she would be expected to appear a Christian as head of the Church of England, but we all know people who don't seem very sincere. Regardless of religiosity, I think people can respect leaders whose faith doesn't appear put on for a show or worse, a way of garnering votes, power, or wealth. I think it better to be an honest atheist or agnostic than put on a sham show of faith.

7. Caring. People respect leaders who care for others and support charitable causes. The tearful photo above is a popular one on social media. I suspect it's popular because it shows a quiet empathy. We want to believe leaders are caring people. I think leaders in businesses and organizations must be aware that people are quick to identify hypocrisy. Only some leaders can fool some people with fake caring.

8. Culture Factor. British humor can be biting and sarcastic. And some Brits resent the money spent on the monarchy. Yet, there are long cultural traditions of showing respect to the Queen by bowing to her and in the singing of the national anthem, "God Save the Queen." But culture can be undone by monarchs behaving badly, so there must be more to her support than just culture. And, as already noted, the data support high levels of popularity in the US--not just the UK or the Commonwealth. The bottom line for corporations and organizations is to create a culture of respect for all people.

9. Longevity. Longevity of a leader or leaders can represent stability in a nation or corporation. Nations with presidents like the US change leaders every 4 or 8 years. That's not a bad idea. But it can lead to major changes in policy and some ugly politics between warring parties. Of course, the same happens in the UK, but in a different way. The Queen does not have the power of the prime minister and parliament where the political fights take place. However, the Queen does offer a psychological sense of stability as one who cares about the nation and remains "above" politics.

I realize Queen Elizabeth II has an advantage over many leaders. Many in western cultures read exciting stories about kings and queens and princes and princesses as children. Children's movies portray dazzling castles and a fantastic lifestyle. Royalty has a mystique. But as I wrote above, some monarchs behave despicably and don't get much respect.

There's probably more reasons for her popularity. If you have a positive contribution, please comment.

Links to Related Posts

What do people respect in a leader?

Psychology of Respect


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Monday, November 11, 2019

What do people respect in a leader?

Respect consists of the ways people treat their leaders and other group members. Core features of respect include social status and likeability (See Psychology of Respect).

In a 2014 survey by Kouzes and Posner of over 100,000 people, honesty was the highest quality (CEO). Honest communication is often supported by facts that can be checked by others. Honesty promotes trust and credibility. One major lapse in integrity can dash a career. Apologies may help but for many, trust is gone forever.

Politicians often get little respect because they fail to deliver on their promises. A CEO will be ousted when a promised result doesn’t happen. But politicians seem to get away with failed promises when they can blame the failure on a competitor, opposition party, or foreign power.

Golden Rule
Leaders gain or lose respect depending on how people perceive them as following the Golden Rule- Treat others as you would like to be treated. Respect is a relational concept. Most people respond with warmth to kindness, politeness, and fair treatment. And people tend to respond in kind to disrespectful treatment. Politicians and corporate leaders who deal in “dirty tricks” can expect retaliation.

People respect leaders who appear confident. Confidence in a leader is obviously important in times of crisis such as war and disaster. Troops appear to have a knack of discovering poor leadership. This loss of confidence can happen in politics, industry, and other organizations, including churches. Of course, confidence must be supported by results. Confident leaders who lead people in the wrong direction can expect to lose respect.

Fair Treatment
Young children have a sense of fairness when it comes to following the rules of a game. Cheaters are penalized. Some cheaters are ostracized. Adults continue to live by a sense of fair play. Leaders must be careful when promoting and awarding raises to members or employees. Some people who have been treated unfairly can be motivated by revenge and wreak havoc in a family, an organization, or a nation—especially when they have a high level of respect in the eyes of a sizeable minority.

We respect leaders and group members who are committed to the goals of a group, company, organization, or nation. People who do not show commitment are treated with low respect. Commitment involves acting in ways that advance one’s group. Some commitments are symbolic like standing to sing a national anthem or showing you like a friend’s social media post.
Other commitments are more tangible like volunteering to decorate for an organization’s social event or working on a project that improves the social standing of a business. A high degree of respect is show by the commitment to serve in a nation’s military.

People respect leaders who demonstrate social responsibility. A fascinating survey of MBA students by Montgomery and Ramus found that 90% cared more about working for a company that demonstrated social responsibility than about financial benefits (2003). Of course, there’s nothing like participating in an activity to show a level of sincerity beyond a brief photo-op.

Consistent, Clear, Communication
My wife and I have been on several tours. One particular leader stood out for confusing communication. You could hear a constant buzzing within our group concerning where we are going, when we are supposed to meet, and what we are supposed to bring with us. The leader won respect for kindness, honesty, and caring, but was so easily distracted when giving instructions that it was hard to know what to expect.

Consistent communication also links back to honesty and integrity. Credible leaders do what they say they will do. Simple explanations for failure may get a pass on occasions, but not on a regular basis.

In western cultures, respect for time is a two-way street. We expect leaders and group members to be punctual. There is no such thing as “fashionably late” when it comes to respect. Lateness represents disrespect for the value of a person’s time and whatever they are communicating. People can maintain respect following an occasional lateness when a socially acceptable reason is provided as long as lateness is not habitual.


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