How Important Is Respect?

The notion of respect plays an important role in our life and in our culture. We have sayings like, “respect your elders”. Often, it is among the first social lessons parents teach their children. There is even a song that spells it out: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

With that in mind, it seems natural that some people get upset when disrespect is shown. They might get particularly agitated when the subject matter is something they care passionately about.

However, there is an obvious problem: there are no rules about what deserves respect and what doesn’t. Or how to show it.

In some instances, we codify these rules into laws. For instance, you should respect the sanctity of human life. Then if you do not, there are legal consequences.

But not every issue rises to that level of importance. For those that do not, how should we deal with it when two people disagree?

It might seem important to respect the beliefs of others. But what if one of those beliefs is something you strongly disagree with? Or that you feel places someone else in danger?

For example, let’s consider the issue of spanking. One person might believe that spanking is a good way to discipline a child. Another person may view spanking as child abuse. Should we respect the rights of a parent to raise their child the way they wish, or the beliefs of the person concerned for the welfare of that child?

The scale for what deserves respect is a sliding one, different for each individual. We all have different values, and finding common ground can be challenging.

How important is respect? What should the consequences be for disrespect? Who should decide what should be respected and what shouldn’t?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? How can we encourage debate? What do we have in common? What does it mean to be thankful? Where does authority come from? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?

5 thoughts on “How Important Is Respect?”

  1. Like most children, I was taught to respect my elders. This seems like a very reasonable thing to teach young children. An important note here is that for children, respect often dictates obedience. However, it becomes harmful when it is not coupled with any caveats. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I came to accept the idea that I did not need to respect (obey) ALL of my elders/authority figures. It is vital that when we teach respect, we also teach what to do when someone is doing something that does not deserve respect.

    Respect can be given as a sign of good faith. But if someone is disregarding, selfish, invalidating of others’ being, abusive, and in short disrespectful, they show that they are unworthy of the given respect. Now what? Walking away from that person can be a good option. But sometimes we are stuck in a position where we have continued interaction with this person.

    When I find myself in this position I struggle to figure out how to act. I want to maintain my own self respect. I don’t want to be rude or disrespectful in return. But I also want them to know that I do not approve of their behavior.

    In my recent past I have had some serious conversations with people that I care about to let them know how their behavior is harmful to others with varying degrees of success. This is only possible when there is a relationship that will support confrontation though.
    I guess what it comes down to is rather than concentrating on how I will treat someone due to their actions, I want my behavior to be dictated by self respect first, and respect for others second. By this I mean that if someone is doing something that is harmful to me or to others, I must respond in a way that stops or confronts the harmful behavior in such a way that I can be proud of my own behavior. I do not want to “sink down to their level” to show them how harmful their behavior is. If I do, I am no better. And when someone demonstrates that the respect that was freely given is indeed deserved, I can comfortably continue in my respectful attitude with them.

  2. First off, I love Serenity’s response to today’s question. What a powerful and nuanced answer. I particularly like the sentence: “I want my behavior to be dictated by self respect first, and respect for others second.” What a great way to set the guideposts for what to respect and what not to.

    As for my answer, well, it’s not so much an answer as it is a statement of thanksgiving:

    In my early days in college I was a much different person. I believed in things that went beyond disrespectful. Some of the beliefs came from a church with a skewed religion (which I was soon to leave), others came out of complete ignorance or even stupidity. Luckily, I was surrounded by many gracious people. Instead of abandoning me — which could have been deserved — they asked me insightful questions. Others challenged me in respectful ways.

    Their kindness, in large part, helped change me into who I was to become. I started to earn respect.

    I want to thank everyone who challenged me to be a better, more respectable person.

  3. There is a popular saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” which I never questioned. That is until recently when I saw another point of view. I had always thought my conscience was a moral compass that could lead me to good (and respectful) behavior. However, I recently read Robert Ardrey’s book, “African Genesis” in which he points out that one’s conscience can reflect only what one has come to believe and so differs according to one’s ingrained beliefs. It could actually make it difficult to be open to other points of view. I’m still trying to digest this new idea, but think it makes some sense.

  4. I feel that respect should be given regardless of whether or not it is deserved. For example, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have has people yell at me, slam doors in my face, curse at me and threaten me with bodily harm. Still, I am not disrespectful to those who do these thing to me. I always apologize for disturbing those who are angry that I knock on their door. I wish everyone, regardless of how they treat me, a good day. Disrespecting those who have shown no respect to me accomplishes nothing. In fact, it can hinder us from having productive conversations at a later time.
    I have the same feeling about others whose beliefs differ from mine. I might not agree, and even feel that what they believe is harmful to themselves and others, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect their right to choose who and what they believe. I often ask questions about why they believe what they do. We may never agree, yet that doesn’t mean we can’t have a mutually respectful conversation.
    I also welcome any questions about what I believe and why.

  5. My husband and I were talking about the difference between values and beliefs last night.
    How they change over the years. So it’s very interesting that this question should be considered.
    When we were younger and newly married our values and what we had passed on to our children were completely different from what we believe now.

    As far as respect goes, we were taught to respect everyone who had authority over us. That includes each other. You were treated the same way you treated others. If you were disrespectful don’t expect respect.
    As an adult I hear, “don’t disrespect me”!
    Now you don’t always know what they mean because you don’t know what their version of respect is.
    I believe I’m on the right path when I show everyone my own version of respect. Which is to treat people like I want to be treated myself.
    In the world of customer service I do well with this policy.
    Over the years my values and beliefs have changed, but my ideas of respect have always been the same.

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