Note: I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible. So if my examples sound vague or devoid of details, it’s for a reason.
Respect is one of those slippery concepts that can mutate into something horrible if it leans too far in any direction. Chief amongst those mutations is fear. Those who cannot inspire loyalty or unadulterated respect often default to wielding fear as a means of gaining and maintaining power.
But, as we learned from Lorewalker Cho in Mists of Pandaria, “Those who lead through fear only stay in power while those they govern lack courage.”
Power through coercion is much like using sand as a foundation for your house. That “respect” is tainted, poisoned, and fleeting. Yet, if the line between respect and fear is so thin, then how does one discern the difference between them?
The way I see it, the one who leads through fear and coercion is the same person who casts aside their humanness during their pursuit of power.
Let’s take the latest occurrence of this dynamic in Warcraft: Garrosh Hellscream. He does not see the people he leads as people. They’re merely tools for his grand scheme and machinations. During the campaign in Twilight Highlands in Cataclysm, he has no qualms about using the player as bait to draw out a sleeper agent in his ranks. In fact, he’s so self-assured that his plan is the right (and only) plan, he even tells you straight up that you were bait without a second thought— as if you would naturally agree that this was the right thing to do and not want to strangle him for his bold-faced arrogance.
In Star Wars, we see that the loss of one’s humanness is both literal and figurative. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is manifested into his rebirth as Darth Vader: something that is part organic, but mainly mechanical. He looks human, or has a human form, yet retains little of his humanness afterward. If you don’t believe me, let’s see how easily you make the decision to destroy a planet full of people. Or, better yet, let’s see how easily you make the decision to construct a giant laser beam so you can threaten to destroy a planet full of people. See? There’s that whole “ruling through fear” thing again.
Let’s not forget that, in the video games, your Light Side/Dark Side alignment affects how your character looks over time. The more you go in one direction, the greater the effect. For those who choose to go Dark Side with their characters, you end up looking like a walking ghost and, for once, choosing to show your helm is actually a good idea.
The same sort of mechanic was at work throughout the Mass Effect series. Your main villains progressively become less and less recognizable as people both physically and mentally. It’s a point that punctuates each of the three games, driving home the point that the only way you can lose the fight is by losing your own humanness in the process. Fortunately for Commander Shepards everywhere, the friends you make along the way help you keep your humanness in tact with their own brand of humanness.
We saw the reverse occur in Portal 2 with the transformation of GLaDOS. The humanization, if you will, of the homicidal and sadistic AI closes the series with the realization that maybe GLaDOS isn’t all that bad and even likeable.
My mother used to say one’s beauty is more of a reflection of what’s inside a person, rather than how expensive their clothes are, or how much makeup they wear. “You could be wearing a trash bag and rags,” she would say, “and you’d still be the most beautiful person at the party because you are a good person and it shines from the inside.” She would also admonish, however, “It doesn’t matter if you spend a lot of money to make yourself look good on the outside. If you are a bad person, you will always be ugly because you are ugly on the inside.”
It’s another one of those bite-sized morsels of wisdom that I’ve carried with me for well over twenty years. When Yoda told the young Anakin Skywalker that fear led to anger, that anger led to hatred, and hatred led to suffering, it wasn’t merely a warning against unbridled emotions. It was a warning against losing sight of humanness in others and failing to respect the humanness of those around us. Light-sided actions and decisions can be boiled down to the simple component of recognizing and respecting another person’s humanness. It’s really that straightforward.
If you ever have trouble understanding what it’s like to see humanness in someone else, just remember that Tirion Fordring let himself be branded as a traitor and exile because he refused to acknowledge Eitrigg as anyone other than a brother, instead of a “monster.”
To close, I leave you with another piece of wisdom from Lorewalker Cho: “Your voice. Your hands. These are the tools of a true hero. Use them well, and you can change the world.”