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?