Monday, December 27, 2010

Respect is NOT earned. It is DIS-respect that should be earned.

There's a lot of confusion over the word "respect." It can mean two things: courtesy and honor. What is honor? How does it differ from courtesy? Well, let me tell you.

I realized some time ago that there are 3 levels of respect.
  • Courtesy - How you treat everyone, stranger or best friend. You are polite to them. You don't insult them. You don't talk badly about them behind their back. You don't argue with them in public. You don't try to make them look bad. It's mostly about what you don't do. You don't disrespect them.
  • Disrespect - There are two kinds:
    • Feeling of disrespect - How you think about people who prove that they are not worthy of courtesy.
    • Action of disrespect - You might also sometimes "disrespect" someone, by doing the negative things listed under courtesy, even if you respect them. When you do this, you are likely to change their opinion of you and they are likely to start to disrespect you, both in feeling and in action.
  • Honor - How you think about someone who is wise. It's deeper than just treating them with courtesy. Your thoughts about them have grown. How you treat them is related to how you feel about them. You are much more likely to be obedient towards someone you honor than someone you are just courteous towards. You think higher of someone you honor than you think of yourself. But you might still disrespect them (action) from time to time.

You know, you hear this a lot:

"Respect must be earned."

And in the same paragraph the same person will say:

"I treat everyone with respect."

Here is where the confusion between courtesy and honor really surfaces. If, when you say "respect must be earned," you describe courtesy, you have it backwards. We must by default treat everyone respectfully... with courtesy... until they have demonstrated that they don't deserve it. It's only until you think about respect in terms of honor that you are right to say "respect must be earned."

I see a lot of people do this. They are clearly thinking one thing: courtesy. But they are describing honor.

Is this important? You BETCHA!!! If you are thinking and describing courtesy when you say "respect must be earned" then you are advocating treating every stranger you meet with disrespect until they have proven that they are worthy of courtesy. Maybe this is why people treat each other so badly. They buy into the "respect must be earned" philosophy and treat each other with dis-respect until that person proves they deserve respect. It's backwards. How is someone going to earn this courtesy if you are treating them with disrespect? Are YOU going to treat someone courteously if they are treating you disrespectfully? If they don't treat you courteously, are you going to start to respect them? No. So you must understand how important this issue is.

Of course in general we do often "treat everyone with respect." But the effect of "respect must be earned" still manifests itself quite a lot too. Far too often I feel.

So I think it's time we recognize the difference between courtesy and honor and we start to treat EVERYONE with courtesy, irrespective of our beliefs on the phrase "respect must be earned."

Indeed. We really must treat everyone with respect.