It’s important to respect “____________” <—— insert whatever identity group, ideology, or opinion here.
I’ve always questioned the validity of this old sentiment even when it was taught to me as a child. Mostly because the sentiment doesn’t make any sense. Respect is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable rewards one person can grant to another. I say reward because that’s what it is in a free society. Let the current state of places like North Korea or Saudi Arabia settle over your mind for a moment where in one country the populace has been forced to worship and respect its leaders as if they were Herculean style demigods and in the other the populace is forced to respect its leaders will because its leaders are quite literally, royalty. Failure to show the proper respect to these figures could and often times has resulted in the deaths of those who refuse to submit.
There is another commonly held belief regarding the concept of respect that I very much prefer; respect isn’t given, it is earned. I say it is a commonly held belief but one could easily be fooled into dismissing this fact simply because there are two opposing ideologies surrounding the word respect.
Respect your elders. Respect other cultures. Respect women. Respect (random person’s) opinion.
Everyone, from everyday people to celebrities and the super rich constantly contradict themselves when uttering this word and the concept behind it. Why? Because most people are self-centered. Even those who go out of their way to help groups and individuals they consider to be disadvantaged or persecuted.
This piece is not a call for the masses to immediately adopt my philosophy on respect. It is basically just an outline of what that philosophy is and an opinion as to why most people or at least most people I have seen and encountered, tend to confuse the concept of respect with another widely known phrase; common courtesy.
The showing of politeness to others. This is the expectation most have for citizens in civil society. Don’t be rude. Don’t insult someone for no reason. If you disagree with someone, express your disagreement without pointless heavy handed or vulgar language.
While there is nothing wrong with this sentiment in my opinion, politeness is not respect. Yes I know that the word respect is in the above definition as a synonym. But here is the definition for respect.
A feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
Personally, I believe the inclusion of qualities in the definition is the most important. This is, in my opinion the most common reason why one person will choose to respect another. Why? Well if your respect for someone is based solely off of their abilities then it is usually someone you don’t actually know. Take sports celebrities for example. Dwyane Wade is my favorite basketball player, even though I don’t regularly watch basketball anymore. I know that if I were to step onto the court with him I would most likely lose. So I wouldn’t make any serious attempt to challenge D-Wade to a game unless I have put myself through the proper training and exercise because I respect his ability to play the game. But I don’t know anything about him personally. We don’t hang out at the club or the gym. He is not my friend. I met him once as his security escort a few jobs ago. So it is factual for me to say I know nothing of his qualities.
Back when I was in the army, it was hammered into us (especially in basic training) that we are most likely going to dislike our leaders. In fact that was the goal in basic. Can you follow someone you hate? Someone who for months has made your life a living hell? Well it turns out you can if you learn to disassociate the person, in this case the Drill Sergeant, from their rank. There are plenty of incompetent leaders in the military but the rank of commissioned and non-commissioned officers is supposed to be a signifier of their ability. As a private I was instructed to respect the rank of those appointed over me, not the person. Meaning if one of my leaders told me to do something stupid I was legally bound to do it and any grievances I held would have to be taken up with someone in the chain of command ranked higher than the person giving the order.
This is one of the most important and valuable mandates within the military and would vastly improve interactions between people within the civilian population if more people put it into practice. Why? Take a look at modern day interactions between common people. There is countless video footage of violent encounters between people over extremely trivial arguments.
“Why you talking shit?”
“Why you disrespecting me?”
Statements like this are why we would hear WORLDSTARRRRRR five minutes later while two or more people are beating the crap out of each other.
But it gets worse.
“Do you know who I am?”
That’s another one that can often lead to a physical confrontation. There are two main reasons that I think are the main cause for this nonsense. One; people feel that to be respectful, one has to follow a certain etiquette, which is really the etiquette of courtesy but I already explained that. The other is that people feel they are owed these common courtesies from everyone. Even people they have never met. Now I am not saying it is wrong to want everyone to be polite, to wait their turn, to not cut someone off on the road, to not let a door slam in the face of the person behind you and so on. But it is wrong to demand someone act in a certain way to satisfy your idea of what respectful is. You might think holding the door open for a woman is the polite and respectful thing to do. What if that woman is a feminist and thinks you are in actuality disrespecting her by holding open that door? What if she demands you change your behavior from then on or you will be disrespecting women every time you hold open a door for one? Maybe you feel holding open the door for both women and men is being polite and respectful but that one feminist will not change her mind (and she should have no obligation to) that you are disrespecting women and will try and let everyone know and condemn you.
What are the dangers of holding an attitude like this? Well if you happen to get into an argument with someone and end up calling them something insulting then that insult, if viewed or heard by people who consider themselves a part of said person’s identity group, will then be interpreted and propagandized as your base opinion for everyone in that group instead of just being an insult flung at some random person in an argument.
Don’t like identity politics in your films or comic books? Then you are a sexist, racist, homophobe etc. You just might not care what the race or sexual orientation of a character is but if you are turned off by and voice a complaint about how a political ideology is being pushed and that narrative push is hurting the story of the film or comic it doesn’t matter. You are a bigot because you don’t respect whatever person that belongs to or is portraying that group. This is dangerous because people are being hit with twitter mobs that uncover their personal information such as their place of employment and they are having their abilities to put food on the table stripped from them because they aren’t showing the proper “respect” certain people of certain groups are supposedly owed.
Respect is earned not owed.
Respect, in my opinion, is one of the most important concepts ever created. More important than its creation, it’s the fact that you decide who receives it from you and for what reason. I can count the people that I genuinely respect on one hand. Not because the majority of people I know are bad people but because only a few people have displayed actions and ideas (mostly actions) that have earned my respect. We all know that feeling we get when someone we know does something or says something on a consistent basis that gives us a small swell of pride to be associated with that person. We begin to take their word on certain subjects that we may have a moderate level of ignorance on. We are more willing to consider their advice when faced with difficult tasks. We all know who these people are in our lives.
Now consider extending that same level of trust to some random person sitting next to you in a bar or restaurant. Crazy right? But that’s not what everyone means when they say that everyone deserves respect. I know. But here’s the thing.
No one deserves respect.
As I stated at the start of this piece; replace respect with courtesy when making that statement and the statement will make a lot more sense. I’m all for not being a jerk to people for no reason. But some (alot actually) people are just jerks. Because they don’t know you. They don’t feel they owe you anything and they are right.
Think of the phrase “good person” for a moment. What makes a person good? If you know the definitive answer then you are God. There is no definitive answer. What is good to one person is an annoyance or bad to another person. When someone says “he is a good man” or “she’s a good woman” they are giving their opinion of that person based on their interactions. That person is behaving in the way that someone else deems worthy of being labeled good. The moment that person stops behaving in that specific way then they won’t be considered a “good” person anymore. But they might gain that title from someone else in their life.
If being good can be subjective then there cannot be a set standard for being respectful. This is why the phrase “respect is earned” is a more true statement than “everyone deserves respect” in my opinion.
There are literally billions of people that I don’t respect but each and every one of them has the ability to earn my respect. That is the power I hold as a free individual in arguably one of the greatest societies in existence today.
You hold that power too.
Don’t cheapen it.
The cover image despicts Aretha Franklin, who famously sang a cover of the song ‘Respect’ to great acclaim. –Ed