on Respect

“There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.” ~ Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881), Swiss Philosopher, poet, critic

Have you ever noticed that those who expect respect are rarely those that practice it themselves? One of the many pearls of wisdom passed down to me by my parents is the old adage that respect is not something that can be demanded – it is something that must be earned. Sadly, if this trait is not instilled in our children while young, it is not something they easily learn, let alone practice, when old. In order for children to learn how to respect, they must be around adults who are already worthy of, and understand the true essence of, respect themselves. Adults who have proven themselves deserving of respect usually raise children who are as well.

So how does one go about earning the respect of others? We live in a world that is growing more selfish by the day, so it is not surprising that the knowledge of how to cultivate the respect of others is slowly fading. Instead of something to be earned, respect has now become merely the commodity of childish demand, where even adults stomp their foot when others fail to see them in the same light in which they see themselves.

Respect cannot be given when the air of the receiver is one of arrogance instead of humility, or when the receiver has practiced deceit instead of trustworthiness, or when the receiver lavishes respect and honor on only those within their sacred circle, ignoring any who may be outside of it.  We see this all the time in politics, when elected officials of both parties lift their noses in haughty hubris at any citizens who dare oppose their actions, question their wisdom, or worse, work hard to deny them their personal agendas. The American people are not stupid; we can easily spot someone who is a two-faced heel, and therefore are not very much inclined to listen to the political squeal of “Respect me! Don’t you see that I have an important title, you plebs?” In doing so, our elected officials show that they have forgotten that the only true title they have is that of “Servant”. And a servant who has broken trust, who has forgotten their place and sought to act like the master, is really due no respect at all.

Earning respect requires some sort of denial of self, as the very qualities that lead to the respect of others are those of the selfless. First of these is humility, which is probably one of the more difficult; after all, who does not like being in the spotlight and getting recognized with accolades, whether deserved or not? Second is honesty, which is something with which all humans struggle; it is a far easier thing to hide our imperfections than admit and fix them. Third is a sense of integrity and ethics, the ability to stand for what is right because it is right, especially when the law, society or precedent may encourage the opposite; this trait requires a true inner struggle of self, as compromise in this area is not only more common, but more comfortable. The traits listed above reside in the heart of a true servant, revealing a strength of character which people long to see in those they elect. Can these traits be mimicked or faked? Yes, but only for a short while, as such lies would quickly be found out. Can they be taught and modeled? Yes, but they still must be individually chosen, and ultimately, lived. Only in practicing humility, honesty and integrity can one have the respect due them, as by then the respect been earned.

True respect is an honor given by others to those who are worthy. It cannot be conferred by title, money, circumstance, claim, demand or intimidation. It is a freely chosen response by the giver to the actions of the receiver. So, are you willingly doing the honorable in order to earn the respectable? Further, are you willing to continue to do so, even if it goes unrecognized? If the answer is yes on both counts, then you probably understand what real earned respect means, as you have already found it for yourself.

“Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.” ~ Albert Camus (1913-1960) French Existential writer

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