Respect, a Tough Task

Respect is an attitude, a characteristic response toward other people, singly or in groups. An attitude is a habit that runs off automatically without much awareness of its execution. “Respect” is second nature, and most are not aware of the verbal and nonverbal signals they “broadcast” for the communication of either the quality or a deficit of respect. Respect is a great problem in all communication encounters. People will read the behavior as favorable or unfavorable. Disrespect takes on many negative manners of communication behavior, verbal and nonverbal, just as respect exhibits positive modes. Respect has to be learned, and taught. It is a vital part of all relationships.

There are many people who behave in such a way as to indicate that they expect respectful deference. They do not tell you, “Respect me!”, but most others will instantly know how to act when meeting such a one. It would be a burlesque scene to watch someone violate the inviolable. I think of Henry Kissinger and put him in that class of stuff shirts you cannot help but be on your most respectful behavior. Can you picture him encountering a back-slapping, “Hail, Fellow! Well met!” fellow? Someone would, and should feel out of place, but that would probably not be Henrty Kissinger.

Respect, the word itself, will convey a peculiar mixture of emotion and intellect. You revere someone very much, someone who is deserving of honor, as the young must generally respect their elders; emotional behavior will dominate unless the intellect takes over to control the emotional side of “Respect”. That is the nature of emotion. In this deferential behavior, emotion says, “Hit the accelerator! Be aggressive! Damn the torpedis! Full steam ahead!”. Intellect is urging, “Now wait just a minute! Not so fast! Hit the brakes! Think about what you are doing!” Emotional control is more often a characteristic of older peoople.

This hybrid word sets up an approach-avoidance conflict, moderating opposing tendencies. But it should not freeze you in inaction. Emotion and intellect are in conflict, reason against feeling. It has both the negative feeling of standoffishness, and the positive feeling of strong liking, or even love. You want to move toward, to get closer, but also to stand back to keep your distance. The head and the heart are at odds, emotion and reason, feeling and mind, caution and throw caution to the wind, advance and retreat. Mind says one thing, be moderate and controlled, but the heart says another, be effusive in showing your desire to be a familiar of that person. Familiarity can be improper, inappropriate, and unearned. A longer relationship will develop familiarity and the permission to take liberties; respect will grow, or the relationship will end. “Liberties” refers to acts of a more complete intimacy where respectful lines are drawn and the relationship has become fully defined. One party to the relationship does not presume too much about actions toward the other party in observance of what is proper between them. Respect is admiration from a distance. Feel the pull-away and the push-toward in the relationships of respect. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Hesitant to rush up and overwhelm with admiration the admired one, or to hold back and pass by this opportunity for physical closeness and rapport.

Like young love. Like hero-worship. Like professor and student. Like celebrity and fan. Like father and son. (I believe the fathers have most of the problems with respect in the family. Probably rarely the mothers.) Approach with reticent esteem, or approach with over-familiar affection. Do you respect your father? Are you too informal, taking too much for granted as they say, or too formal with him, indicating a small measure of fear? Is your mother treated differently? It is said that father’s love is conditional and mother’s love is unconditional. Father has expectations that have been made explicit. Does that mean you can get away with things with your more permissive mother that you cannot get away with where your father is concerned? How is respect toward your mother expressed differently with your father?

If respect is operating, you could easily err in either direction. You might act too friendly or familiar and offend the object of your esteem, or you might be too distant and miss out on a valued relationship. The ideal balance to be desired has to be learned. Mistakes in judgment will be made but will add to experience. As one learns, there will be the shame of failure, and some satisfaction of success in striking the right balance between being too sweet or too distant. Showing respect is trial and error learning through positive and negative feedback. It is complicated until you mature. In maturity, you have gained self-confidence in feeling and knowing right behavior, ending the discomfort of choosing, for now you have attained the habit of respect.

It is certain that there are many people who lack the discriminating behavior needed for showing respect. The shrinking violet is the wallflower, shy, timid, insecure, erring in the direction of avoidance of striking up acquaintances and friendships.

On the other hand, there are those who respect no one, the bull in the china shop of relationships, the crude, uncouth, ill-bred person lacking the refinements of respect. The boor, the rude and insensitive person is no respecter of another’s dignity, that is, for the other person’s choices of familiars and friends. The boor is oblivious to the other person’s wishes. Dignity is having choices.

If you have such a person in your circle of friends or family, having endured his or her performance for a long time, you have probably wished often you had the power to re-educate that person, whom you may otherwise admire and love, in the ways of respect, of showing a greater sensitivity to what you desire. Without the ability to show respect, the person has several character faults, is uncivil, infantile, immature, domineering, commanding, self-centered. Character is forged on the anvil of choices. Having choices is the pathway to reforming character, learning new, more respectful behaviors.

The generally disrespectful person is in danger of failing in any work career, have difficulty in adjusting to new situations both social and industrial. Some disrespectful people can really test the tolerance of friends and family, employers and fellow workers.

There is one more topic regarding respect. Can you guess what it is? Yes. That’s it. Turn the stethoscope onto your own chest and hear and listen to the beat you hear there for what may be called “self-respect”. There is evidence in and on your own body of the health and power of your respect for yourself. What do you think is the evidence that your self-respect is high or low?

The Ultmate Formality of Respect

Where would you expect to find the most respectful models of deferential behavior in the world? Some nations may be especially secure in their reputations for teaching and expecting respectful acts. But there are some prominenmt models of respect. In the public presentations going on at the United Nations the respectful language is de rigueur. Such ceremonial forms of address may also be heard in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Those ladies and gentlemen in their public interactions proceed with the great formalities in that context, and that often carries over into other, less formal contexts. Being a habit of their general relationships.

The Ultmate Formality of Respect for Laws and Rules and Customs of Government, Nature, Society

  • Saluting the Uniform and Rank
  • Genuflecting
  • Standing at Attention
  • Proskynesis (refers to the traditional Persian act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank)
  • Removing hats, shoes
  • Taking pledges
  • Taking oaths
  • Swearings in
  • Making promises
  • Reading the Articles of War
  • Shunning
  • Ostracism
  • Banishment
  • Custom and conformity
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Etiquette, all social protocols
  • Parental Rules of the House
  • Cleanliness, Dress Styles, Personal Hygiene
  • Political Correctness (Cultural Astuteness) (When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Waiting for the light to change, I stepped off the curbing of a street corner in Lucerne, Switzerland. A middle-aged lady, also waiting, said to me, “We don’t do that here.” She obviously had stereotyped me as an American, probably by dress and my disrespectful behavior.)
  • Individuality, Individual Differences and Stereotyping
  • Flag Protocol

U.S. Society’s Thrust for Respect

The general informality among citizens of the United States is cause for a lot of social gear-shifting with that ugly sound of gears grinding (as in the older cars before auto-shift). There is much discomfort here caused by disrespect in the guise of informality. Who stands on formality anymore? Well it is still there, strong and enforcing your behavior. Learn or die! That is especially important for the young to take seriously.

I was a Boy Scout, camp counselor two summers in the early ’40s. Chief Howlett, in the Spring before summer camp, had us staff members over to his house to learn all the rules and forms of laying a table with the silver, glass and plate ware, and posture. Then at camp with all the boys there, he prowled among all the eight eating tables, which seated about 8 or 10 boys each, looking for the table, after the eating was done, which was to be rewarded with an extra dessert, after all the other boys had been excused. He would prowl, inspecting each table as the boys sat at attention, with a trophy in hand and then, very dramatically, plop the trophy down in the middle of the winning table, to much celebratory shouting—that was before high-fives became to victory sign.

Respect the Laws of Nature

  • Construction of homes and businesses must be adapted with respect for the nature of disasters in the region.
  • Citizen readiness in respect for the natural disasters of the region must be planned.
  • Insurance to mitigate the effects of natural events, fire, flood, quakes, and others requires respectful anitcipation and planning
  • And others.

Respect the Laws of Government, Set for Society by Legislatures

  • Ignorance of the law is never an excuse for the violation of a law and is the ultimate disrespect for law.
  • Scofflaws, those who habitually ignore the law and do not answer court summonses, together with criminals, crooks, felons, malefactors, outlaws, drunk drivers, speeders, runners of stoplights, etc.

Respect the Rules of Custom


  • Patriotic acts:
    • Fly the flag only with certain rules.
    • Stand for the National Anthem;
    • Know the words of th Anthem;
  • Acts of Etiquette: rules governing socially acceptable behavior
    • Write thank you notes.
    • Learn and follow table-setting rules.
    • Take a seat in a theater in the dark by facing the correct way and using the correct language. Better yet, show up always on time to avoid such disturbances.
    • Study a book of etiquett
    • Dating customs and rules of behavior
    • Youth respect for their elders, teachers, among others
    • Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, dates of significant events, names of relatives, of acquaintances, of family friends, of officers, etc.

    Respect Social Practices of Fellow Citizens

    respect Other Forms of Ritual or Principles


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