I’ve heard more than one person say it isn’t taught anymore, or that kids don’t have it anymore. But from where I sit, most of those who demonstrate a serious lack of respect are adults.

I have been privileged to hang around with a fair number of young people, mainly thanks to my daughters, and most of them seem to get it – in spades. But when it comes to adults there seems to be an awful lot of focus on themselves and not much at all on care and concern for the people around them.

Respect is broadly defined as showing esteem or honor. But we don’t have to like everyone or everything in order to show respect. All we really have to do is demonstrate that we care, and treat others like the frail and fragile human beings we all are.

For many years I was fortunate to work for a human services organization with offices in a restored Victorian mansion.  We shared this spectacular building with other non-profit human service providers, some of whom saw clients in their offices. Often, these were people who were down on their luck or really needed some guidance to help get their lives on track. They all passed by our doors, and our boss made it clear that we needed to treat all who entered with respect. The building also helped to set the tone, since you could not possibly enter that dark wallpapered foyer with the grand staircase and feel that it was okay to mess around with anything or anyone. We didn’t have too many problems there, because we treated people respectfully.

Not every place is like that. Sometimes the tone is completely different and people are used, abused, and treated like they are only  necessary to handle certain tasks. All too often human beings are herded like animals or treated as disposable commodities.

I’m sure if you look around you’ll see some people who regard life as though they are playing a game of chess; moving the rooks and pawns around the board to protect their queen; or worse yet, those who see themselves as the puppet masters, working in the mistaken belief that we all dance the same way when our strings are pulled. But we don’t, because we are all tied to different strings: hope, desire, low self-esteem, cowardice, illness, or a simple need to put food on the table.

Arrogance and ego are far more prevalent than respect. Respect means we value each other as individuals, regardless of our beliefs. It means we politely listen to each others points of view, even when we disagree. It means we seek other opinions in order to form a well-rounded decision.

The Oxford Dictionary defines respect as a “feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” I would challenge that we don’t even have to get to “deep admiration.” All we really need to get to is good manners, and if we work hard we could graduate up to civil and courteous discourse. It would improve the human condition substantially – in our homes, our work places, our churches, and our governments.

Aretha Franklin got it right. All we need is r-e-s-p-e-c-t…just a little bit.


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