Written by: Preston Chapin Soriano
As we are growing up as children, we are often told that we must give respect. Respect our parents, respect our teachers, respect our elders, respect, respect, respect. As we become adults, then we are told that we must respect our bosses, respect other’s beliefs, respect other cultures, respect our neighbors. Something that isn’t really always clear, however, is what exactly the word “respect” actually means. There are really two definitions. The respect that people are naturally expecting from you is the first meaning, which is to honor, revere, and hold in high regards. That is the respect that has to be earned. However, most of the time when someone wants respect what they are really getting is the second–often forgotten–definition which is to allow, or to keep from hindering.
Another notion that we must ask, however, is why respect? and must we respect everyone? We respect someone in regards of our own moral standards. Respect, like love, is something that is given involuntarily as a response to the actions of others (and in contrast, disrespect and dislike or hatred are also given as a result of the actions of others, involuntarily). What we deem “good”, we honor in others who also share the same values. Your standards of respect have to be considered universally applicable, otherwise you are simply setting a double standard. Which brings us to the second question. Must we respect everyone? If this is true, then it has to apply to everyone. Absolutes require absolutes. If we are to respect everyone, then we must respect the person in the van luring in children with candy. Or the person who holds a knife to your throat demanding your wallet. So I counter that no, it is impossible to respect everyone. Because the most important part of respect is knowing that you must respect yourself above all others. Your life is yours, at the end of the day it is the only thing you truly own.
We must strive to earn respect. To demand respect “just because” is admitting that you cannot earn it any other way, in the same sense that the mugger is admitting that there is no other way that s/he can earn money other than from stealing it from you. When you force an action from someone else, you are in fact acting in the opposite of what you are expecting. By forcing respect, you are disrespecting the free will and actions of those who you are interacting with. You are attempting to steal virtue.
Always be suspicious when someone, anyone, demands your respect for something. Never be afraid to ask why you must respect that thing. Be especially curious when no real answer can be given. We are constantly told that there are things that we must respect. So I am going to go through a small list of these things, questioning each one. This is not an attack on these things, but merely observations and commentary.
- Parents. We are told that we must respect our parents because… well, they are our parents. This is a horrible argument because this is under the assumption that every parent out there is a saint. If there is a parent who is an alcoholic and beats their children at night, should the children respect these people? Even though they are in a constant state of fear for their lives? What if the parent is completely dismissive of the child’s wishes, has no tolerance for their children and goes into angry rages at the slightest irritant? One very, very important fact to remember is that children are not born of their own will. The moment that two people have sex and create a life is the moment they choose to be parents, the child has no say in their existence. It is almost more important that the parent love and respect the child more than anyone else because the child has absolutely no choice to be there. Your spouse can leave if they are unhappy, but your child cannot. Many parents will argue that they “act virtuously” by providing material things, and that should earn them a moderate amount of respect. It may earn them gratitude, but that is a different word altogether. Instead of stealing virtue, they have merely attempted to buy it.
- Religion or other religions. The whole concept of “coexist” has always baffled me. Now, now, hear me out. Here in the western world and culture, that idea or ideal is definitely an easy thing to throw around. In fact, if you question this topic at all, you are deemed intolerant, hateful, bigoted, or worse. This form of “tolerance for beliefs” is not something that can happen in any rational sense. Absolutes, like I mentioned before, must be absolute. If you are to respect and allow every single religious act, then you cannot be appalled to find that a five year old girl was abused in every hole in her body until she was finally killed by her own father who questioned her virginity. (http://pamelageller.com/2014/03/muslim-cleric-fayhan-al-ghamdi-released-raping-killing-daughter-doubted-virginity.html/) This father was within his rights under his religion, and in fact his punishment was a mere fine and slap on the wrist for simply “accidentally” killing his daughter. To respect this man’s beliefs is to condemn many more women and children to the same atrocities. I hate to say it, I really, really do. I wish that we could all live together peacefully without hate and killing, but that is not the kind of world we live in. There will always be a group of people who want another group of people eliminated, through mass conversion or murder. To disrespect these barbaric practices is to strive for the preservation of actual virtue.
- Your country. When it comes to where you are from, there is no other reason to respect a place other than “Well, I am great, and I am here, so this place must be the best”. Your birthplace, wherever in the world it may have been, was completely accidental. I was born in Texas, therefore I must be a Longhorns fan. However, I moved to Washington, now I am expected to be a Seahawks fan. But now I am in southern Cali, so I must be a Chargers fan. Your geological location does not give a specific location any special glow, it does not improve you as a person, nor does you just being there make the world a better place. When I left Texas and Washington, those places continued to exist without me. They continued to be just exactly the same as before I left, and before I even arrived. If I had been born in Canada, then would Canada be the greatest place in the world for me to live? What if I was born in Ireland? Russia? Japan? We might be prone to confuse sentimentality with respect in terms of locations, but places are just that: places. You shouldn’t place any more value in the dirt you walk on than the air you breathe.
Demanding respect for these things, or anything else, goes against everything that the term stands for. We can only truly respect the things that we care about the most, otherwise we are just tolerating. Respect is something that you will give whether you know you’re giving it or not. It is an instinctual reciprocation towards the values that the person and/or idea brings to your life. When something or someone is worth admiring, when their virtues align with yours, you can’t help but gravitate towards them. It is an unspoken trust that the person or idea holds the values that you personally aspire to. More often than not, you will feel respect before you even say it.