Thursday, 26 December 2013

All due respect

I totally disagree with that old cliché "respect has to be earned". I think everyone should be respected until such time as they do something that forfeits that respect.

A complete stranger is as worthy of respect as an old friend you've known for years. They deserve respect simply because they're another vulnerable human being, with the same feelings and needs and weaknesses.

If a person hasn't "earned" respect, does that mean I can treat them as badly as I like, kick them around, abuse them, until such time as they've qualified for better treatment? Whose barbaric idea is that?

This absurd principle is trotted out all the time to justify hostile attitudes towards immigrants, welfare claimants, single mothers and all sorts of minorities people don't want to treat decently.

It means people are regarded as second-class citizens unless they've jumped through all sorts of demeaning and ingratiating hoops to raise their status.

It's like saying people have to earn kindness, or courtesy, or fairness. Shouldn't these be the normal way to behave?

Do we say a new-born baby has to earn our respect? Do we say a dinner guest has to earn our respect? Of course not.

Everyone deserves an initial respect, be they malodorous beggars, beer-slurping couch potatoes or clock-watching pen-pushers. Surely respect should be the norm unless it's forfeited by something unforgivable or reprehensible? Or unless the person's actually attacking or robbing you.

To my mind, respect is the cornerstone of a civilised society. It's not some prize to be competed for. It's not a carrot on the end of a stick. It's a basic right.


  1. I agree...respect is something everyone starts with...everyone's birthright.
    You can forfeit it by your actions...but not earn it.

    What bothers me is that I think the 'respect' that is seen to be earned is given to those who have acquired money and power - nomatter how lacking in decency the mode of acquisition of same.

  2. What prompted you to write that? Did someone treat you with disrespect? Today I went to the grocery store and noticed how annoyed this one worker was toward me while I was in the self was because my item would not scan. It wasn't in the system. I figured she was exhausted because this time of year is exhausting for those in retail.

  3. Helen: Indeed, too much respect (well, pretend respect anyway) is given to money and power rather than personal decency.

    Susie: No, most people I know treat me very well. The phrase just came to mind and I thought how ridiculous it is. I worked in bookshops for many years and I well remember how manic the Christmas period always was!

  4. On the one hand, I do believe every one initially deserves respect. But when I think about this expression, I have always assumed it was talking about people who demand respect while behaving in ways that did not warrant it. My stepfather used to yell at us that we HAD to respect him - and yet he was an abusive bully and a fool. He did not have my respect and I felt like he would have to earn it to get it.

  5. With respect, Nick, I would have to disagree with you.

    My father would demand respect for everything: house rules, his rules, his timetable, his demands. I found it extraordinarily difficult to respect him, even in later years.

    The most lack of respect I see around me is in marriages, the male-female kind. I

    I maintain that the most important ingredient in a marriage is respect. Without it, it is a farce.

    And children need to be shown respect before they have a clue as to what it is.

    And yes. We can show respect at the outset but after a while it has to be earned. And one's behaviour is an intrinsic part of obtaining respect.


  6. My grandmother supposedly hated the phrase:

    "Patience is a virtue."

    She had none. She was Irish, actually.

  7. Agent: I would say that your stepfather had forfeited respect because of his behaviour. Presumably to start with, when you didn't know what he was like, you did respect him? My own father was also an abusive bully, and I respected him until I saw how nasty he could be.

  8. www: I would say the same thing. Did you not respect (look up to or whatever) your father until you were exposed to his real character? Then the respect collapsed.

    And wouldn't you have to respect your future husband from the start to have the confidence to marry him? Isn't it only after marriage that you might lose that respect?

  9. Susie: I don't agree with that phrase either! It's so often an excuse for being timid and not getting to grips with something you're unhappy with.

    Not sure if impatience is a typical Irish characteristic. Actually I would say it's untypical. The Irish are being amazingly stoical and fatalistic about the dire mess their economy's in right now.

  10. I agree with you in principle, Nick. Respect is indeed a given right but then, as Secret Agent Woman and WWW say, one may forfeit our right to be respected. I have not had either SAW's or WWW's experience with my father. Whilst he and I do not always see eye to eye he most certainly never lost my respect, and I haven't lost his. It's a matter of conduct. However, some people during my life time, among them and most painfully so (for me) siblings who have lost my respect - not in all areas of their lives, of course not, but in there, somewhere, you'd have to be a contortionist to absolve them.

    So to summarize: You are right that we are all born with the basic right to be paid respect. Yet, like capital, we may squander andlose it. Whether we can ever "earn" it I don't know. Maybe 'reclaw' the loss a better way of putting it. And that takes effort.

    Respectfully yours,

  11. I never really thought of it in the circumstances you are using, but I do agree that we should respect everyone as fellow human beings until they prove otherwise.

  12. Ursula: Earning respect seems like a never-ending obstacle race to me. At what point have you clocked up enough points to have "earned" respect?

    I think reclawing the loss is pretty hard once you've lost respect for someone. They'd really have to grovel and apologise profusely!

    Bijoux: I think so. People deserve to be treated decently unless they've shown themselves to be not worth the decency.

  13. After reading all these comments I'm tired of reading about RESPECT. I had parents, siblings, friends I respected & who respected me so it's not a particular concern of mine.

  14. Bikehikebabe: Well, lucky old you! Actually I've had respect from most people in my adult life. The only exception was the manager of a bookshop I worked for who really had it in for me. He was a workaholic who thought most of the staff were lazy time-wasters.

  15. I totally agree, however, my experience here is that lack of respect seems to be the community norm.

  16. Bonsaimum: Personally I don't have a problem with lack of respect but yes, in the wider community it seems to be very common. Self-interest is so often the name of the game.

  17. I blame the English language and possibly culture Nick. The word tolerance has taken over. A language and culture that tolerates cannot or more likely will not respect.

  18. Ramana: You have a point. Tolerance just means grin-and-bear-it rather than an open-minded appreciation of what someone is.