Sunday, April 15, 2012

Earn respect?

Do you think people should earn your respect? Really? Why?

When I was growing up, respect was not something you earned. Respect was freely given, in fact, it was considered an entitlement. It was DISrespect that had to be earned. Now, if you think I’m full of crap on this, put on your thinking cap and follow along with me.

In a circumstance in which respect is not freely accorded to others, disrespect reigns. When you respect the rights and feelings of others, you don’t do things that might infringe on those rights or impinge on their feelings: you don’t cut in front of them in line, you don’t cut them off on the highway, you don’t interrupt when they are speaking, you don’t insult their politics or religious inclinations, you don’t assault their ears with loud cell-phone conversations, or impair their breathing with your second hand smoke—and they don’t do the same to you.

Common courtesy and manners, the lubricant that oils the wheels of social interaction, are based on simple respect for the feelings and rights of others. When respect is absent, disrespect reigns…and when you behave disrespectfully, you invite others to behave towards you in the same way.

Speaking altruistically, you must give respect to get respect and a society that values pleasant social interaction must be based on the simple tenet that we must all respect each other if we are to avoid conflict and make progress.

But there is another, more practical and less esoteric reason that respect must be freely given rather than earned: the sheer impossibility of doing so.

You see, there are billions of people on this planet and even if you live an insular life in a small town, you are going to meet quite a few of them. And each person is going to be different, have different mores and beliefs and feelings…and each one will have different criteria for earning respect. Moreover, those criteria will not be tattooed on their foreheads, nor will they thoughtfully hand you a list of them…in fact, if asked, they will likely be hard pressed to even articulate what it takes for you to earn their respect. And if they really thought about it diligently, it is most likely that one of the critical criterion would be that you show respect to them.

You are no different. You have some kind of nebulous concept rattling around in the back of your brain that defines what it means to earn your respect. And you hold countless numbers of complete strangers to this amorphous, undefined criteria in order to “earn” your respect, without telling them or even being able to articulate it yourself. This is grossly unfair. It is setting a standard to which you expect others to measure up without ever telling them what the standard is. It virtually guarantees failure on the part of others and virtually guarantees you a conscience-free pass to be rude and disrespectful to the majority of people you meet! I mean, if they don’t earn your respect, why should you treat them respectfully?

This attitude is the most basic underpinning of bullying. If you don’t respect someone because you believe they have to earn your respect and you have made it impossible for them to do by creating an impossible and/or invisible set of standards, then you don’t need to respect their rights or their feelings, do you? If you further create some gates that a person must pass through in order to even try to earn your respect—like they must be straight, or Christian, or politically conservative, or a certain race or ethnicity or gender—you further create a situation that you feel absolutely justified in not respecting those who are unable to pass through those gates. If they can’t jump through the hoops and avoid the obstacles you have set up, then you feel perfectly justified in disrespecting them.

When you consider that there are potentially billions of people doing this, that if you meet 100 people in the course of a week, each one of them may be doing this to you, you may begin to see how this cannot work as a way of life. If you meet 100 people and each of them has a different criteria for having their respect earned and none of them are willing to tell you what you must do to “earn” their respect, you are basically screwed. It is a hit or miss situation where “earning” someone’s respect is accidental rather than by design or intent. It is, with rare exception, impossible.

But it goes even deeper than this. Consider for a moment: what kind of a person truly believes that his respect is so rare a commodity that others must earn it? What kind of a person has so little respect within his heart that he must dole it out only to those who are willing to abase themselves to “earn” it? If you think of yourself as a “good person,” what are you doing withholding that most basic entitlement of humans, the right to be respected simply because they exist?

That’s right—we all have basic human rights—and the right to be respected is one of them. We earn DISrespect when we have done something worthy of it, but respect is your birthright. And to expect others to earn your respect is tantamount to saying that you are entitled to withhold from them a right that came with their first breath, setting yourself as a superior being above those from whom you withhold your respect. It speaks ill of your character, and reflects badly upon your moral fibre.

Many of us have bought into the notion that respect must be earned out of ignorance and lack of critical thinking. We aren’t really bullies and we deplore the lack of common courtesy we are subjected to in daily life. Curiously, while we take the position that strangers must earn our respect, we fully expect those strangers to treat us with the respect and courtesy we have made no effort to “earn” from them. It’s a one-way street in our minds—others should treat us with respect but they must earn ours—and we don’t even realize it!

If you take the time to really think about it, you have to come to the conclusion that respect simply cannot be earned. No one person is sufficiently intuitive and simultaneously fluid of personality that they can divine and appropriately react to an infinite, and infinitely changing, set of demands. You cannot please all of the people all of the time—and when it comes to earning respect, you cannot even know what all of the people think you need to do.

If you want to be respected, there is a simple way to achieve that: respect others. Respect their feelings, their rights, their existence. Give them respect as a matter of course and only withhold it when a specific person has done a specific thing that is worthy of withdrawing it. Set the bar high—determine that taking your respect away from a person is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly or in response to something small, like disagreeing with you politically. In fact, to my way of thinking, it is only demonstrating an ingrained lack of respect for others that warrants the withdrawal of my respect.

You might consider this the next time you think another person should earn your respect rather than you giving it freely and giving him a chance to earn your disrespect instead.


  1. I agree that people should engage each other with the assumption that each will have a respectful communication and relationship. However, I believe that people also earn their reputations, and they should not be protected when they obviously have done things that would impact a relationship. When I ask a third part about someone's reputation, I expect honesty - not evasions or niceties. Norine

  2. Not all people earn the reputations they are saddled with. Some people have reputations, due to the malice of others, that have no basis in reality or fact. I have been there and I know for a fact that this is true.

    I think it is perfectly OK to disrespect people who have EARNED that disrespect. But before we GIVE disrespect to others, I think they should have the benefit of the doubt, even if given cautiously. There are convicted murderers on death row who didn't do the crime...

  3. Thank you :)

    I have followed your blog since 2006 when you were on Mweb.

    I don't always agree with everything you say, but you do say things in a way that makes one think and reconsider how we see things.

    Please don't stop writing!

    Issy (formerly Wildcat from Mweb)

    1. Issy, I surely do not expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but if everyone who reads me takes a little time to re-examine his/her positions, then I have succeeded in my goal, even if they don't change their minds!

      Too often we take a position without really thinking about it--we absorb it from our family, friends, religion, a charismatic speaker--but in absorbing it, we simply adopt thoughts, beliefs, and values that belong to others. It is only be examining and reconsidering our positions that we truly make them our own.

      Live consciously!

      And thanks for writing and thanks for your continued support (even when you don't agree with me!)


  4. Hi again SV,

    Having just returned from a trip which included Spain, France and Italy, your latest blog really got me thinking about how I perceived the people from those countries. I was quick to label them because they were so different, but your blog made me re-think my views. It makes life so much simpler when we don't take everything so personally.

    Thanks again ☺

  5. thank you,for the answer about RESPECT,I have been looking for a proof and someone who can really tell me,as I always heard from those people around me,that they believe,you can`t ask a person to respect you,YOU HAVE TO EARN IT!!!sounds not fair right?I was taught by my parents that you have to respect others and try not to take advantage,and my respect is free,and unconditionally as a human with heart,but the respect I need,I have to earn it!!!. as I always heard,YOU HAVE TO EARN IT!!!I don`t know how?do I need to?......thank you for you,because at least I`m not alone,I don`t need to try to earn it,if they don`t like to give it free,it`s okay!they can keep it for themselves...

  6. thank you for you page, eventhough,I`m late with my comments, I like it,I have been looking for a proof about Respect,I thought i`m alone to my beliefs that RESPECT IS free,I`m having a hard time earning the respect of some people around me,as they do believe that "RESPECT IS not to be ask,you have to earn it".I don`t know how?because my one is free and always consider the feelings and their existance as a human being that God created,it hurt me alot and my heart is protesting for that belief,but when I read your page,I felt relief at least I am not alone,hope I can post it to my Facebook so they can read it,but I don`t know how?do you have a simple quotes for it?so I can post it and share for anyone to read?pls!..thank you very much,^_^


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