The Relationship of Respect

Time is valuable, if you don’t respect your time, you don’t respect your responsibilities – your job, others, etc… Respect is more than just an acknowledgement that something or someone isn’t of a negative value. Often we consider variations of that answer adequate. You’ll often hear kids say stuff like this. And while they’re wrong, it’s interesting to point out that kids, especially teenagers, don’t process empathy-related information (‘putting yourself in others’ shoes’) in the same way that adults do. Teenagers when scolded for showing up to class late, with incomplete homework, or for disrupting a lesson or lecture, accused of being disrespectful demonstrate incredulity, scoffing and saying things like ‘It’s not that I don’t respect you, but…’.

Compassion is a feeling of empathy or pity, an acknowledgement of someone’s suffering as valid and unjust. That’s true. But that’s just part of compassion. Compassion is also an action. It’s the action of taking smart, or else intentional and calculated steps to help X with their problem, with that thing that you acknowledged which made you feel the ‘feeling’ part of compassion. Respect is like compassion in this ‘respect’ (cheeky… cheeky. Jeesh! You can tell I’ve been watching a lot of QI lately). It’s both a feeling, an acknowledgement that someone isn’t of a negative value, and also the fulfillment of the purpose of the thing respected – the referent. Or that thing that doesn’t leave someone with a negative value. Respect is the proper, just, fulfillment of a job, or a responsibility, or a function. Respect isn’t just vapid veneration. It’s not just the consequence of power for the powerless. That’s foolishness.

If it’s (that job, responsibility or function) useful, wisely constructed, the best of all the options (best solution) – in conception and application (theoretically and practically), if it’s the ‘best the best of us could possibly do in theory, and the best this individual could possibly do in practice’, then there’s respect – you can’t accomplish all of that without respect; the respect X person has for that job or responsibility or function will necessarily exist, but so should the respect of the benefactor of X’s hard work. That’s where respect should exist; in this relationship. But as you can see respect of this sort requires knowledge of X’s hard work, of the nature of respect, and generally of X’s job. That’s a hard thing to do – to know all of that. Especially considering all of the different jobs out there. That’s why respect is a social norm – a standard, a pro-social form of behavior generously rewarded. The path of least resistance when you don’t know all of that stuff is simply to be ‘respectful’. Which entails being kind, being polite, being responsible and being courteous.

It is a problem that we don’t all know enough to be properly respectful – both of others and of our own jobs. That’s why I believe we all have a responsibility to learn as much as we can about all of the things we regularly interact with which required some service from someone else. (‘As much as we can’ doesn’t mean as much information as we can shove into our minds, but as much as is allowed – by our responsibilities, by the things we ‘respect’, etc… following the rule ‘make good decisions when consequences matter’ helps). So if you regularly see a doctor, which we all should, learn as much as you can of the practice of medicine as your ‘life’ allows. We should all know of the civic duties we share and of how our societies’ function; how garbage collection works, how sewage systems work, how electricity works, how taxes and the economy works, how shop owners and small-business work etc… This is a way in which our education fails us and is responsible for the very sorts of people it so regularly chastises and villainizes.

In order for a doctor to properly respect his job, his patients have to respect him and his job – and themselves (although respecting him properly, and his job, necessarily means to some extent greater than otherwise, they will respect themselves too). So in this way respect is sort of a duty. Not some rigid duty from now until the end of time. It’s only a duty in the sense that it is a very functional solution to the problem respect addresses – the problem of functioning as best we possibly can in any job, relationship, system etc…

If you were a car manufacturer and you created a car that shut down every mile, when there are plenty of cars which don’t, and in a market in which that information is public knowledge, and when you could have created a better car, you’d be a bit of a fool – at least it would be a foolish model. If the car was not the product of insouciance, indifference, and laziness, then perhaps it’s not really a problem that it doesn’t function like the other cars.

Do the best you can possibly do in anything you’re doing. Or do the best you can possibly do in those things which really matter. We have limited resources. Don’t worry too much about the way you sweep – the arch of the broom and the angle of your hand – if you don’t really need to. If you’re a student writing a paper, it then makes sense that we have this disinclination to throw all of our resources at some menial activity like sweeping or picking up trash. Sweeping, as cleaning, and picking up trash, as cleaning some environment, are important goals. But it’s important to put them in perspective. Which fortunately is not something we actively have to do very often.


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