Aretha Franklin sings about it, Rodney Dangerfield complains he doesn’t get any at all, and the rest of us would appreciate a little more of that curious thing called respect.

Some say that every human owes every other human a measure of respect. But are we obligated to respect everyone?

Must we respect serial killers like Ted Bundy or child abusers and rapists? What about despots such as Pol Pot, whose government is blamed for killing up to two million Cambodians? Should we respect those who planned and executed the horrible events of September 11, 2001? What about those who destroyed businesses in cities across America in the Spring of 2020?

Respect is not so much something that is owed to another person; it is something that must be earned by individuals.

Respect comes from a variety of directions.

Respect is born of awe. On the human level, we often stand in awe of people of great achievement. Every baseball player stands in awe of Babe Ruth, business executives respect Bill Gates, and nearly everyone had profound esteem for Mother Theresa.

In every society anywhere on the globe, humans show some respect for a higher power. Christians have respect for Jesus; Jews have respect for Jehovah; Muslims respect for Allah, etc.

Respect is born of evaluation. We judge people by the quality of their lives, by the merits of their character. We can respect an honest person and disrespect them for poor personal hygiene. We can respect someone as a great surgeon while disrespecting him/her as a moral reprobate. Not everyone has an equally moral character, nor do all people act morally the same, and we judge them accordingly.

Respect is born of institution. We respect some people not because of who they are personally but because of the position they hold in society. Every member of an African tribe respects their chief even though he may be a vile man. In our culture, we respect people who wear badges (police officers) or robes (judges and clergy). We respect people of position, such as the owner of the company we work for, or people of authority like the foreman of our work-group. However, just because we respect the institution an individual represents does not mean we respect the individual who holds the position.

Respect is born of fear. Shopkeepers located in certain parts of some cities respect out of fear the gangs that run the streets. Most US citizens pay their taxes willingly, but a few pay them because they fear the power of the IRS. In certain parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, local citizens respect the Taliban only because they fear the terror they are ready to perpetrate at any moment.

Respect is born of equality. There is a measure of respect that each person on earth owes to the other because we are all members of the human race. The respect born of equality is one that each has for the other and cannot be a one-way street. If I have no regard for your life, limb, or property, I have abdicated my expectation to be respected by you or any other member of society. Another way to put it is, I can’t kill my parents, then appeal to the judge and jury for mercy because I am an orphan.

For normal people, respect is showing the other person that we value them as individuals. Truly good people show respect for others even before they have done anything to deserve it. The investment in valuing others pays a dividend of the R-E-S-P-E-C-T Aretha sings about, Rodney longs for, and we all desire.

©2020 Dr. Ron Ross All Rights Reserved

Author's Bio: 

Ron Ross, B.A., M.Div., D.Th., is an author, speaker, publisher. He has written nine books to date and more in the works. He lives in Loveland, Colorado