The Rejection of Respect

“We tend to blame the younger generation for these crude behaviors, but the truth is that the situation is degrading all ages and levels of society [refer back to the “rap industry” which spans both coasts and involves all levels of society in its manufacture and distribution]. It is commonplace to see couples openly insulting each other in public and treating each other with absolutely no common courtesy (a sliding scale which leads directly to physical and verbal abuse).

Just as unfortunate, and equally common is disrespectful and dishonest treatment between colleagues in the business world, who fall back on tricks, half-truths and crude vocabulary to make ends meet. And then, to add insult to injury, these issues are left to be resolved by enormous and costly governmental programs, that can do nothing when facing this irreversible deterioration of personal relationships without the involvement and commitment of everyday people in their everyday lives.

The lessons of courtesy and good manners taught by parents at home, or perhaps by teachers at school, too often forgotten, are increasingly absent in mainstream education. This phenomenon is a byproduct of an absurd social model that certain politicians’ attempt to impose, where manners must be re-taught to adults by companies that offer courses in protocol and courtesy to professionals in business environments. But we mustn’t be fooled, to be successful in this world, we have to make good use of good manners and courtesy [in our personal and private interactions] from the beginning, it won’t do to call a possible partner “dude,” and say “Hey, babe” to the future mother of your children or “No way will I take that, you jerk” to your friend.

The deterioration of verbal communication is an evident and alarming symptom of the absence of good manners. The most elemental level of any society is personal relationships. Positive relationships are built on courtesy and a culture that has no regard for polite speech is on the path to swift decline [with society to soon follow]. Our tolerance for rude and discourteous behavior seems infinite and no relationship is immune to the effects of disrespectful conduct and coarse treatment. Whether we’re dealing with insults from other drivers, curt and disagreeable treatment by customer service reps or the rude and aggressive attitudes of people on the street or at work. These behaviors contribute to the lowering of our standards for polite behavior, standards that concern and affect all of us, and we tolerate or justify this inappropriate and unacceptable behavior because [try as we might, if we are the only ones trying, we will never overcome the masses of people that just don’t care.]”

We have arrived at the point in our culture where the nation’s youth take their social cues, not from parents and teachers, but from pop-music, including rap (discussed above) and from light-hearted fare on television and streaming on their personal computers, laptops and I-phones. These productions – save for the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, which are aimed at pre-teens and pre-pubescent teens – almost universally feature young characters behaving in rude, crude and unacceptable ways, insulting their parents, other adults and their friends without any consequences at all except an inane and raucous “laugh-track” – an artificial compilation of crowd laughter inserted in these shows where the directors believe laughter should be heard – and probably would be if the dialogue or action were actually funny.

“So, while manners may seem unimportant, they’re really vital, because discourteous and vulgar conduct tarnishes the dignity of people and the society that allow them. Good manners, like any learned behavior, require practice and effort. Certain social and governmental models that [many Americans] favor would have people believe that effort and hard work aren’t necessary for success and material comforts. The best example – the “War on Poverty” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”. As we have seen, this kind of government program promises certain citizens the world for their votes, and creates generations of citizens that think they have a right to “free” healthcare, a certain type of housing, and no obligation to work or make any effort for any of these things without any consideration for the citizens that work and pay for these “free” programs. In this type of system, overachievers are looked down upon as show-offs and formal manners and courteous treatment are often considered unnecessary artifices or, crude behavior and discourtesy are favored in order to mock the achievers.

Society also needs a means by which citizens can indicate the values they place on the goods and services being offered independent of the marketplace. In a free society, the marketplace and the laws of supply and demand largely determine the financial rewards earned by producers. But this mechanism isn’t sufficient. The market alone often doesn’t reflect the intangible values offered by different goods and services. Some of the goods and services most critical to the functioning of a modern society are those least able to justify an attractive level of return solely on the basis of their direct market value.

Artificial interventions in the marketplace, like our previous efforts at prohibiting alcohol and our current efforts toward prohibiting [addictive] drugs can also cause massive distortions, causing the marketplace to deliver the greatest financial rewards to the producers of those goods and services claimed to be of the least real value to society. Even an entirely free market fails to comprehensively reflect the collective values of society [that manifests itself in respect].

For instance; throughout most of history the earnings of prostitutes have exceeded those of teachers. While both professions can be argued to be providing valuable services to their customers – and in the minds of some, the differential rewards provided by the market are entirely valid – most societies have made some attempt to encourage one over the other. The granting or withholding of respect has historically provided this very useful mechanism. Poor teachers were respected citizens while rich prostitutes were not. The desire to be respectable citizens provided sufficient encouragement for many individuals to choose teaching over prostitution.

But, in our current obsession with political correctness we have disturbed this most valuable function of society. Where respect previously was something of value that an individual had to earn through their principles, abilities and deeds, we’re now told that respect has been decreed to be yet another entitlement. Where respect previously served as a badge of honor and measure of the regard of one’s peers, we’re now instructed that the rituals of respect must be most carefully observed when interacting with those we might privately consider least worthy, lest one be accused of the modern equivalent of the “Scarlet Letter” – “the micro-aggression”.

Society as a whole is suffering significant side effects from the forced distortion of our natural inclinations toward conditional respect. By degrading the value of respect, we’ve also effectively degraded the value of those related socially useful concepts that respect formerly rewarded – concepts like honor and personal integrity. Why bother with such inconvenient restraints when society is prohibited from showing its displeasure by withholding its respect?

Having compromised society’s more subtle means of encouraging reasonable accommodation of the accepted norms of behavior in our day to day affairs, we’re obliged to resort to more overtly invasive means of accomplishing this necessary function. Where the practice of conditional respect once provided a significant and relatively automatic moderating influence we, as a society, must now increasingly turn to heavy handed legislative “solutions” to deal with ever more minor aspects of everyday life.

Just as our concept of respect itself is multidimensional, the side effects of eliminating conditional respect are similarly not limited to the single dimension of moderating person-to-person interactions. The “respectable” professions formerly drew adequate numbers of high quality individuals who were motivated more by their dedication and desire for the respect of society than by the limited salaries. Now that conditional respect has been removed from the equation, society must pay ever larger piles of hard cash to convince ever lower qualified individuals to perform these most necessary jobs.

As an example, consider the well documented decline of our educational system. In the past, our highly respected but underpaid teachers provided America with the finest educational system in the world. However, in order to avoid offending those undeserving of our respect, we’ve greatly cheapened those extremely valuable intangible aspects of the job that had formerly attracted the best applicants. As a result, we must now attempt to compensate for this lost value with financial rewards and other concessions such as shorter hours and longer holidays that compromise the educations of the students.

While admittedly there remain a few exceptional teachers, who continue to struggle to educate their charges in spite of the ever-increasing obstacles, the general failure of the education system indicates that they have become the minority. The teachers we fail to properly respect today put in ever- fewer hours failing to teach ever-smaller classes of ever-more violent and out of control students. In order to convince ever-less qualified individuals to occupy this ever-less attractive position solely for the money and perks, we now pay teachers average salaries double the national average earned by the parents of those functionally illiterate children that graduate, unprepared for any meaningful role in life, from our now politically correct but functionally crippled schools.

Is the feel-good effort to expand the distribution of the abstract aspects of life, in the way we have so successfully expanded access to material goods,worth the huge costs and side effects? Is the ever-increasing intrusive regulation of the most minute details of society by government worth the illusionary benefits of forcing society to show respect for those most worthy of our disrespect? Allowing those with only a superficial understanding of how society really works to dismantle its mechanisms based solely on uninformed and misguided emotional reactions to perceived inequities [think Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and Not My President] invites disaster. The principles and functions that have proven effective in the past sometimes remain the best alternative after all.

In today’s society, with our emphasis on building self-esteem and self-confidence in ourselves and our children, we have forgotten the importance of self-respect. We often hear the words interchanged, as if they mean the same thing. The modern misuse of the word self-respect has watered down not only its original meaning but also its value in our lives. Going back to old English, the definition of self-respect was “proper regard for the dignity of one’s person” or “to hold in honor”. It comes from within and is not reliant upon [elements] outside of ourselves, such as physical appearance, public image, wealth, social status, praise, accomplishments, awards or achievements. Rather than being something you “build” or “earn”, self-respect comes from no other reason than the fact that you have the right to dignity because you are a human being. It means to honor yourself as a person regardless of your life circumstances. Knowing this important difference will affect the choices you make and therefore the quality of your life. 

When we think of the people we truly admire now and in history, it’s because of their self-respect and not their outside achievements. We can all name more than one celebrity who had “it all” – talent, awards, money and fame, only to have it all come crashing down. Their self-esteem and self-confidence might have brought them to the top but their lack of self-respect brought them down.

 Young children build their sense of self-respect from their interactions with others. When they are made to feel special and valued, children grow to respect themselves. A positive sense of one’s self allows the maturing child to respect others. Self-respect is at the heart of respecting others. Children need to learn to nurture their self-respect rather than become dependent upon constant praise and attention from outside in order to be happy.” More important, all adults need to learn to protect, support and encourage self-respect in all of our children. It is a civic responsibility.  

People who have self-respect: 

  1. Know who they are and never apologize for who they are.
  2. Like and excel at being who they are.
  3. Won’t settle for relationships that are not good for them.
  4. Don’t concern themselves with how others perceive them.
  5. Are able to say ‘no’ to things that don’t suit them.
  6. Won’t compromise their values to ‘fit in’.
  7. Take responsibility for themselves.
  8. Are honest with themselves.
  9. Know their time is valuable.
  10. Never give up on themselves.

 The great thing about self-respect is that no one can take it away from you. It also frees you from the expectations of others. You are not swayed by another person’s opinion of you, the next fad or the latest diet. Instead of always seeking, you really know that who you are is enough. You will want to learn and have new experiences, but not to change who you are or to please others. Nurture your self-respect. Take quiet time alone in nature, meditation or prayer. Learn to become comfortable in your own skin and honor the fact that what makes you unique is enough.

As a society, we appear to have lost the instinct for kindness and the willingness to extend the hand of friendship. Our responses to children, to older people, to strangers, are all conditioned by a concern not to offend and a fear of getting involved. The social evils of today highlight a real concern for the way in which society increasingly values people for their economic contribution, at the expense of kindness and compassion. Some blame the nature of regulation – while providing protection for some, it seems to have intimidated the majority. Others feel there has been a general decline in values: individual advancement is seen as more significant than the ability to care for others.”

Whatever the reasons, we are uncomfortable with the society we have created. The idea of the common good has been lost and we are experiencing a severe social recession – the effects of which are far more devastating and long-lasting than any economic recession.”

“Real respect is something that is earned. One earns another’s respect by voluntarily doing the things mentioned above, such as taking that person’s feelings, needs and thoughts into consideration. Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you. Respect cannot be demanded or forced, though sometimes people mistakenly believe that it can. Since a baby has no concept of respect, and feels only its own needs when born, the only successful way to teach a child what respect is, is to earn the respect of the child as they slowly grow into a thinking human being.

The way this is done is first of all by attending to the child’s natural needs, such as to be fed and nurtured. As the child grows, his needs change. He has increasingly sophisticated psychological needs. He begins to express his own views, his own preferences, and he has an increasing need for freedom, autonomy and independence. This is when the adults in his life can treat him with increasing respect and thereby earn his respect in return.

It doesn’t make sense to think of respecting a baby in the same way that we say we respect an adult. Yet on some level the two concepts are similar. This similarity has to do with our voluntarily helping that person with their needs. In either case, we must first accept the needs. For example, if a baby needs to be fed at three in the morning we don’t do it begrudgingly if we respect his natural needs; we simply accept that the infant has a natural need to eat at that particular moment. Likewise, if an adolescent or an adult need to talk, we accept this need and we show respect by listening voluntarily.”

As soon as a parent begins to believe that these needs are burdens – respect begins to deteriorate and self-respect soon follows. An interesting common denominator among successful African-American professional athletes is that the great majority were raised by their single-parent mothers. Those mothers – truly angels-among-us – usually worked multiple jobs, made sure their children did their school-work and got their children to their practices and games. What followed was unimaginable economic success!

Unfortunately, only a few hundred of the millions of young African-Americans per year get the chance to be professional athletes. The example however, has been set. The problem is showing the millions of single-parent mothers of all races and ethnicities how to respect their children as well. Respecting someone means respecting their feelings and their survival needs.

Those in positions of authority too often expect and try to demand that those beneath them show ‘respect.’ But if they have not first earned respect by showing it (which is done by respecting the other person’s feelings and needs), they may find that their power is actually based on fear. Once a person no longer fears such an authority figure, then the authority figure’s power base quickly disappears out from under them, often leaving them feeling frustrated, powerless, confused and resentful.

A New York City gang member was asked why he carried a gun. He replied: “Before I had this gun, I didn’t get no respect [read fear]. Now I do.” Similarly, teachers and parents often believe that if a child obeys them, or says “Yes, Sir/ No, Sir,” it means the child respects them. Several teachers have said they felt more respected when there was more ‘discipline’ in the classrooms. When one probes deeper, without fail they made it clear that they were talking about a time when there was more use of corporal punishment in school, and thus more fear of physical pain for disobedience.

There is a danger in mislabeling fear as respect. To use an analogy, consider what would happen if two jars in the medicine cabinet were mislabeled. What if poison ivy lotion were labeled as cough syrup, or chlorine as contact lens cleaner?

Here are some comparisons between fear and respect:

  • Fear is toxic. Respect is nurturing.
  • Fear destroys self-confidence. Respect builds it.
  • Fear is life-threatening. Respect is life-enhancing.
  • Fear is forced. Respect is earned.
  • Fear is learned. Respect is earned.

When we do not feel respected by our parents while we are living with them, we have an unmet need to feel respected later in life. This is such an obvious statement, yet it needs to be said. It is one of the clearest examples of what happens when our emotional needs are not filled in the right amounts at the right time by our parents. People who did not feel respected by their parents tend to take things personally later in life. They may make a big “scene” over something which to other people would seem small. They do this because they are in pain from the lack of respect which they are still feeling, one which originated many years earlier, but likely was not allowed to be expressed.

They may demand to be respected by their employees, their children, their students and the sales clerks in the supermarket. They may seek positions of power where they have authority over others as a way of trying to fill their unmet need for respect. But when they are in positions of authority it is easy for them to confuse respect and fear. When they are feared, they are not respected. When they try to use authority and fear as a substitute they find that they still feel unfulfilled since you can never get enough of a substitute. On the other hand, another consequence might be that they have such low self-esteems that they never feel worthy of respect. In this case, they will let people take advantage of them, abuse them and manipulate them.

Outside of the home, teachers are one of the first representatives of authority in society. If they earn the respect of their students, the students are likely to respect others in positions of authority and society will tend to function a bit more smoothly. Teacher training programs, for example in a typical university, do not show future teachers how to earn the respect and cooperation of the students. They are then significantly unprepared when they reach the classrooms.

 If a person begins studying to become a teacher with the belief that teachers should be respected or obeyed, just because of their position as a teacher, it will be very hard to change this belief. What might be needed then, is some way of filtering prospective teachers based on their beliefs. While this idea may make some people feel uncomfortable, the reality is that a person’s beliefs do significantly affect their attitudes, and attitudes affect the classroom environment. Beliefs also affect a person’s ability to be taught new things, especially new ideas.

 At present, teacher training programs do not test a future teacher for their open-mindedness. Instead, their ability to adapt to the status quo is much more highly valued. Much depends, of course, on the people who design and control the teacher training curricula and the admissions and graduation processes. Their beliefs will obviously affect the system itself and the future teachers created by the system.

If a teacher or future teacher is emotionally needy, and they have an unmet emotional need to feel in control or to feel important, it will be almost impossible for them to treat students with respect regardless of their training and preparation. On the other hand, there are many teachers and future teachers who agree that respect needs to be earned, so they just need to be offered practical skills to help them learn how to do this.”

One can say with some conviction that people no longer care about how their interactions with others effect the outside world. “Today, everything is about instant gratification and pleasure. Attitudes such as; ‘I can do whatever I want to anyone, but they dare not do it back to me.’ ‘I can close the door in someone’s face, push them aside in annoyance, or publicly humiliate them’. ‘Anything that gives me a shot of pleasure is acceptable – because I am the exception’.

 This mentality is being fed by social media. People are given the perfect place to totally immerse themselves in themselves – if you wanted to you could literally spend all day every day for the rest of your life looking at nothing but pictures of yourself, and doing nothing but talking about yourself. None of your 5,000 “friends” will say anything, because it would by hypocritical of them.

Next time: Youth and adults: rolls reversed.

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