Respect: who deserves it?

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By Chris Odinaka Nwedo

Love the one who loves you. Respect the one who deserves it. Value those who take care of you. And forget those who don’t deserve you.-  Pinterest

Respect Is for Those Who Deserve It Not for Those Who Demand It ...

Luca, a good-natured friend returned from work strangely quiet and perceptibly unhappy. And without waiting to be asked why the uncommon change of countenance and conduct he recounted how they spent hours in office waiting for Mrs. Fallen to summarize her boringly long repeated speeches on how to be given what she described as an absolute respect. According to Luca, as the irritable and repetitive lecture was going on, another infuriated colleague tapped him by right arm and asked conspiratorially “why is this woman arrogant and trivial, just too full of herself”? And regrettably, she was unable to give us an idea of what she meant by the “absolute respect”. At a point, Paschal who was in the habit of continuous confrontation with Fallen retorted, “it appeared she was demanding respect at gun point, moreover, respect for what, and what obligations again do we have apart from doing our work according to schedule? “Leave her alone she seemed to be intensely challenged by improper perception of herself.” Paschal concluded. At this point, Miss Alina calmly and collaboratively said, “Fallen needed urgent psychological intervention. She is absolutely obsessed, and really out of restraint, wonders shall never end…”

At the end of the story, I said to Luca this should not keep you disquieted except you are taking the events personal for no reason. People react to challenges of proper leadership in different ways- positively or negatively subject to their degree of preparedness to lead. In one of our meetings before commencement of work our team leader asked for dedication to duty and efficiency, stressing the importance of positive conduct and concluded with an aphorism that respect is reciprocal. She stressed thus that “anyone wishing to be respected must imperatively take the first step by respecting others. No one receives more respect than he or she gives”.

 It is the comparisons of the two contradicting positions on the question of respect that inspired me to put into writing my reflections on the subject matter. This reflection avoids specific discussion on the merits or demerits of the two positions. It will be interested in finding out what ‘deserving respect’ means. As a matter of priority, let us commence instantaneously with definitions of the word ‘respect’. However, no one definition is clearly satisfactory because the term is progressively becoming problematic to define due to the fact that it is often subjected to personal views and interpretations. It is often the case that the word is inappropriately interchanged with terms power, love and fear in some contexts. The definitions constitute premises and directions of this endeavour.

 “Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements. Opposite of respect is scorn.”1 It is a “deferential esteem felt or shown toward a person or quality, a regard with deference, esteem or honour…2  Like esteem, respect is defined as “a positive feeling or action shown towards someone or something considered important, or held in high esteem or regard. It conveys a sense of admiration for good or valuable qualities3.  It is “the process of honoring someone by exhibiting care, concern, consideration or feelings. Some people may earn the respect of individuals by assisting others or by playing important social roles.  Individuals are considered to be worthy of respect until they prove otherwise.4

Again, “respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. … You show respect by being polite and kind. For a lot of people, taking your hat off or kneeling, prostrating or bowing is a show of respect. When people are insulted or treated badly, they feel they have not been treated with respect. You can respect things as well as people”.5 Respect can also be seen as “means of demonstrating “high regard” for or special attention to something or someone. However, this definition alone does not provide us guidance about what that something is or how it is done. Yet again, while it may be easy to recognize the absence of respect, it is not nearly so easy to define and reflect respect in our daily interactions with people.6

 Respect is a derivation from Latin respicere, which means “to look back at” or “to look again,” it is a particular mode of apprehending an object. The person who respects something pays attention to it and perceives it differently from someone who does not, and responds to it in light of that perception. This perceptual element is common also to synonyms such as regard and consideration.7   Our personal definitions of respect are influenced by our personality, emotions, preferences, and cultural contexts. Each of these elements may be difficult to define in the clearest and most objective terms. Even people without disabilities have difficulty describing and explaining personal criteria for respect tied to these variables. We often learn about these things over time through relationships with people. Respect requires struggling to understand each person’s individual expectations for respect as we get to know them and build shared experiences over time.8

For Max Weber dictionary, “respect is an act of giving particular attention, high or special regard, the quality or state of being esteemed, expression of high or special regard or deference”.9  Respect is also described as acceptance of someone for who he or she is, notwithstanding disparities in gender, nationality, colour, religion or ideologies. In this context, “it is thinking and acting in a positive way about yourself or others. When we discern respect in a relationship as building “feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing. It therefore implies that respect is thinking and acting in a way that shows others you care about their feelings and their well-being.10 For some schools of thought respect is associated with “a mode of behavior, a form of treatment, a kind of valuing, a type of attention, a motive, an attitude, a feeling, a tribute, a principle, a duty, an entitlement, a moral virtue, an epistemic virtue…11 Accordingly, “the idea of paying heed or giving proper attention to the object which is central to respect often means trying to see the object clearly, as it really is in its own right, and not seeing it solely through the filter of one’s own desires and fears or likes and dislikes. Thus, respecting something contrasts with being oblivious or indifferent to it, ignoring or quickly dismissing it, neglecting or disregarding it, or carelessly or intentionally misidentifying it.12

Respect Is For Those Who Deserve It, Not For Those Who Demand It ...

No one is without desire to be respected. Some people ‘command’ more respect than others. This could be as a result of natural physical endowment or some kinds of exceptional circumstances which may also involve age considerations. Above assertions refer to the quality of attention, esteem or concern we are disposed to offer an individual prior to proper knowledge of the behavior of the individual. However, the respect may be withdrawn as the relationship proceeds. The withdrawal of the deference naturally may occur as a result of discovery that such an individual hardly worth the quality of the special consideration. This can be when it is known that the individual is of odious character or of inclinations that the respect giver considers irreconcilable. In addition, people are respected due to the nature of their backgrounds. This may involve cases individuals from a royal families, ruling classes or super rich. But respect founded on these factors are ephemeral and easily lost if unaccompanied by approvable conduct.

Profession is a major predisposition factor in this subject, respect. In most societies religious leaders, law enforcement officers, captains of industries, doctors, nurses, soldiers, politicians etc are deeply respected because of what they do and represent. Note, the kinds of special consideration given to these individuals are profoundly subject to confirmation by positive comportment. It is obvious that there is nothing in an individual or profession that magnetizes respect and keeps it perpetually for the individual without conscious input.  Here are comportments of someone deserving respect:

 An honest, resourceful, persevering and self-restrained individual commands respect. ‘Command’ in the sense that you cannot avoid giving it him or her the reverence or admiration notwithstanding how mean you want to be. He or she is compatible with respect, and therefore deserves it. In general, there is the supposition that the individuals of this disposition are positive and inspire positive conducts. Self-restraint makes the individual to control his/her temper and the individual too does not allow subjective preferences to overrule him or her on duty. Compare this with an abhorrent conduct of a law enforcement officer with uncontrollable temper, biased and rebellious conducts, a corrupt politician, a dishonest health officer, hypocritical religious leader or a boss whose character gives complete definition of iniquity.

 Reliability or trustworthiness is a trait of a respectful person. In some societies politicians are not respected because they are not reliable or trustworthy. Due to habitual falsehood they are despised. The increases in crime rates in some communities are directly linked to the people’s refusal to cooperate with the law enforcement officers they do not respect nor trust due to bad behavior.

 Leaders who accept responsibility when things go wrong are respected. They deserve respect because of the attitude that makes them maintain positive postures even in the steam of intense crisis. After the ongoing rampages of Covid-19 pandemic, some national leaders are likely to emerge victorious and respected while many are likely to confront public scorn for roles played. Responsible leaders take blames instead of transposing them. They do not curse and denounce circumstances, they embrace circumstances and inspire commitment for resolution. They have high self-esteem, and their loyalties are not questionable. As a result of these attributes they are respected because they deserve it.

For some scholars, “an attitude of respect is, most generally, a relation between a subject and an object in which the subject responds to the object from a certain perspective in some appropriate way. Respect necessarily has an object: respect is always directed toward, paid to, felt about, and shown for some object.13  While a very wide variety of things can be appropriate objects of one kind of respect or another, the subject of respect (the respecter) is always a person, that is, a conscious rational being capable of recognizing and acknowledging things, one capable of self-consciously and intentionally responding to respect, a person capable of having and expressing values with regard to respect and being accountable for disrespecting or failing to respect. Though animals may love or fear us, only persons can respect and disrespect us or anything else.14

There are other uses of the word ‘respect’, this is recurrently in references to things animate or inanimate. Here we “speak of drivers respecting the speed limit, hostile forces respecting a cease fire agreement, or AIDS as not respecting national borders, and in such cases we are referring simply to behavior which avoids violation of or interference with some boundary, limit, or rule, without any reference to attitudes, feelings, intentions, or dispositions…15

Giving respect is virtuous act. There is a moral compulsion to give it as appropriate. However, it is difficult to conceive of anything deserving of absolute respect. Absolute respect typically means complete or perfect respect, or respect not subject to limitations, restrictions or exceptions. Since nothing is absolute within time and space, it is difficult comprehend respect that is absolute. Respect is conditional. You take respect as much as you give it. It is communal or reciprocal. The measure of respect you give is the function of the one you receive. Respect is great. It motivates the receiver. It encourages the individual to continue to be resilient in doing the right thing. Respect equally conveys dignity to the giver. There is disparity between being respected and being loved. One can be respected without being loved. For instance a hardworking law enforcement officer or a skillful surgeon may be respected for his or her services, but it is hard to say that he or she is loved from the real sense of the word. On the contrary, the one loved is inevitably respected. There is predominance of respect in love.

Respect is selective and measurable. For Cranor “respect is thus reason-governed, we cannot respect a particular object for just any old reason or for no reason at all. Rather, we respect an object for the reason that it has, in our judgment, some respect-warranting characteristic, that it is, in our view, the kind of object that calls for that kind of response.16

In accord with this modest exposure, one is inclined to argue that those deserving respect are the honest and the resourceful. Reliability is a trait of a respectful person. Leaders who voluntarily take responsibility when things go wrong are models for respect. Dubious bosses, corrupt politicians and public servants are scornful. They do not deserve respect. Uncontrollable or rebellious law enforcement officers are curses to the society. Pharisaic religious leaders do not deserve respect rather they merit chastisement.

By Chris Odinaka Nwedo