Saturday, June 16, 2007

Of Respect

There are two kinds of respect. There is formal respect that is expected and assumed in certain relationships such as between an elder and a younger, or a parent and a child in the social area or as between a judge and a lawyer, or a teacher and a student within the educational and work space. Formal respect is therefore imposed or assumed depending on the role or position one assumes in dealing with another. An important thing to appreciate about this type of respect is that its imposition is merely minimal in a sense that you cannot get any lower than this. Its application is also contingent upon the respective parties keeping to their allotted roles. This type of respect also does not have to be earned because its 'earning' has already been assumed and incorporated into its function.

To understand what I mean by minimal respect let us now consider the other kind of respect - informal respect. The is the type of respect that is not assumed but earned. It is earned by deeds, words, and reputation from individuals, groups of them or society as a whole by the individual or similar groupings . And this respect can only be earned by the use of one's abilities whatever they may be. This kind of respect is the truer and more meaningful type. While the formal respect is necessary for the smooth running and ordering of society, the informal respect is important because it gauges the quality of true respect. Informal respect can be layered on top of formal respect.

An illustration is this. Let us say there is this person who is a High Court Judge. He was completely undeserving of his position. He had no accomplishments to speak of prior to his appointment. He is not well endowed in any of the following areas: intelligence, integrity, diligence and a sense of justice. He is a corrupt bastard. But in a work environment formal respect is demanded and must be given. There are laws in place to ensure that this respect is given (contempt of court, fat bailiffs in the courtroom more ready to sleep than to escort anybody out). But as far as our informal respect goes, we have absolutely none for him. When he speaks we will not listen. When he makes a joke we will not laugh. When he decides something, we ridicule him in our writing. In fact, if there were no formal respect in place and the law of the jungle applied, I dare say we should be entitled to disembowel him.

And that is what is meant by the formal respect imposes a minimal kind of standard of respect applicable. However, if the Judge was in complete opposition to the other one I have given as an example, clearly our informal respect for him would be of a very high degree. Both formal and informal respect would be present. And when this happens there is a wholesomeness to the respect because it encompass both sides of the equation.

The problem is that most people confuse the kind of respect to be given and expect to receive. For example, a high ranking civil servant or high flying chief executive of a large corporation may think that they deserve respect from everybody else below them. They may demand that within their workplace but aside from that no further type of formal or informal respect should be accorded to them. A high ranking civil servant is in no formal kind of relationship with me because I am not in government. However, these type of chaps also tend to be older, so the type of respect I may give you is not out due to your position but because of your age. But these people may not see this and think its because of the other. And there is certainly no informal respect applicable. That still has to be earned.

People who demand to be respected usually tend to be the ones that least understand how it operates. They think that they're own personal accomplishments are enough to earn informal respect. How can that be the case when respect is issued from a third party? Informal respect is earned vis-a-vis each person and what they find as acceptable proof worthy of it. These misguided people confuse the informal respect with the formal one and what they really want is the former. The lazy and selfish will never be able to earn another person's respect because for them respect is about satisfying their own narcissism and has nothing to do with the other person.

I never quite understand these people. They think that by earning money they similarly earn people's respect. But just because you know how to make money means you necessarily know how to treat people and know about what's good in life. And respect that can be bought is worth little. It is the one that is earned that is the most meaningful and satisfying both to give and receive. For one is not entitled to receive respect if one does not know how to first give it.

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