Respect is Earned (?)

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, if respect was something we earned, then there would be two sides to the ledger: those we approve of and respect and therefore regard and treat with kindness and consideration; and, in the other column, those who fail to meet expectations, fall short of standards and who do not, therefore, deserve our respect. These are stark columns. With a huge gap between them.

Simply put, we think some people deserve our respect and some people don’t.

We see this perspective in play everyday. It sounds reasonable… until taken to its logical conclusion. If people have to earn respect, then where does that leave the homeless or disenfranchised? Can anyone live without being treated with dignity—regardless of their traumas, misfortunes, and stories? But too often only successful, wealthy, accomplished people—regardless of privilege or lucky breaks—really get the benefit of the basics (e.g. human dignity/respect).

This daunting life-lesson doesn’t take long to learn. I suspect it will be one of the first ones my son brings home. There’ll be a window of grace, time for him to prove himself. But most likely, in the end, respect will be granted based on performance, not personhood. If he shines, he wins! If he stumbles, he doesn’t. Because too often respect is given out as a prize in a winner-take-all race, rather than liberally, as essential to participating in the human race.

Dignity is too basic, too essential to our well-being to depend on performance & success.

IF, ON THE OTHER HAND, respect is something we have coming to us as members of the human community—each one made in the likeness of God—then things might look and feel a little (or a lot) different. If someone can simply expect it as part of their birthright, then they would be in the right to assert their “deserving some respect.” They would be right to ask for it and insist on it, to maintain their dignity and hold their place in our estimation as well as their own.

Respect is key to personal integrity and well-being. This is true for both giver and receiver. While love makes the world go round, respect is what greases the wheels, at home and at work. Respect should not be the purview of the privileged (or disciplined, successful) few. It’s more like the bread and butter on the table we share. It’s basic. Essential. And in too many cases, sorely lacking.

PEOPLE CAN EARN a paycheque, a reputation, applause or rewards, but they can’t earn basic human dignity, because we are all made in the image of God and that deserves respect.

This is one of the key life-lessons I have tried to instil in my children. I hope it’s affirmed and reaffirmed, throughout their life. Although, I know they’ll have to learn to articulate it in their own way, among superiors and inferiors: this (ironic) thing about life being more a level playing field than it appears.



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