What does “respect” mean?

Sing R-E-S-P—E-C-T and millions of people all around the world can hear the voice of Aretha Franklin.  Seems the song or the word resonates for everyone.  But why?

Is it because all human beings need/want to be respected? Is it because respect, like love, is lacking in the world?

The answer is yes, and yes.

Turns out though, that the reason respect is lacking in the world is because …

most people don’t know what respect means.

Yes, most people have a one-sided view of respect and don’t really understand the fundamental nature of what it means to be “respectful.” They go around chasing respect because they have an idea that it feels good to be “respected.”

They run around complaining about not being respected, but they are not respectful of others or their environment. Hence my assessment that they have a one-sided view of the word respect.

So what does respect mean anyway?

Aretha can’t help you.  If you listen to the lyrics (you can read them here, just be careful what you click on), it seems she was more interested in getting laid.

Not that wanting to get laid contradicts being respected—in fact, as you’ll see from the second definition below, this fits in perfectly with being respected, and Lord knows how I L-O-V-E gettin’ respected—it’s just that the lyrics themselves (Aretha’s song) shed no light on the meaning and importance of the word respect.

The dictionary defines respect as

  • “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.”
  • “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.”

Can you see why I state that people have a one-sided view of what the word means?

It’s because most people relate primarily to the first definition, and not the second.  This may explain the following bold assessment:

People want respect but are unwilling to give it

Ok, maybe not so bold an assessment as you are unlikely to disagree, but what I’m pointing at is a fundamental reason for this lack of respect among our fellow human beings.

Because people have this one-sided view of the word respect, they see only the benefit—being respected—but not the cost—being respectful. 

They associate being respected mainly with high achievement and superior talent and think that they deserve respect because of a delusional sense of their own greatness or superiority.

This is most likely because the first meaning of the word is much more embedded in our cultural conversations than the second.

Most people do not give due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others.

What does due regard mean?

It means to take the time to learn what the people around you value; their feelings, wishes, goals, ambitions, rights and traditions.  And then to organize your words and deeds, so at the very least you do not block their experience, attainment of, or progress towards what they value.

You demonstrate due regard by adjusting your behavior to help them take care of what they value.

Respect means concern for your impact on your environment

Respect means the consideration of the impact of your actions—indeed your very existence—on the state of your environment and those who share it.

This doesn’t seem to be difficult to communicate and understand yet more often than not we see people being disrespectful to others, and their environment, even to the idea that there is a consequence to their actions.

Are you respectful?

Are your respectful of the people that you touch every day?

I can help you answer that question very easily.  If you do not even know what they value, what their concerns, fears, ambitions, interests, etc. are, then the answer is no.

It’s better to honestly be able to say that you don’t know what they value because it means that you may not even be aware that your actions have been disrespectful.  If you do know and still you act with no regard, then you have some serious atoning to do.

If not, and you are not moved to atone

Then at least have the courage to declare the relationship for what it is e.g. convenient, exploitative, dominating, political etc.; just be clear that it is not respectful.

One Response to What does “respect” mean?

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.