“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
R – E – S – P – E – C – T this is the familiar spelling from a popular Aretha Franklin song from the 1960’s. In that song she is only asking for a little respect. Many of us today look around and ask the question, where is the respect? Still others ask why they must have respect for perhaps someone older or someone in authority or even someone in a similar or lower position than themselves. Why respect the law or school rules or traditions? The behavior of some persons begs the question of self-respect.
The online Oxford dictionary defines respect in the following ways:
• a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements;
• due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.
The first definition conveys the sense that respect is an emotion arising as a result of an external stimulus. Someone either had some special ability or quality or did something great to earn that respect. The second definition talks about taking people’s feelings into consideration without any boundaries or limitations. We must just have that respect because they exist.
The feeling of respect evoked by an external stimulus refers to the kind of feelings we have for a great athlete, such as Brian Charles Lara, the West Indian Cricketer from Trinidad or the reverence afforded to a great leader such as the president of a nation, such as Barack Obama, the President of the United States. Personal opinions about these types of people and their worth do not matter when it comes to respect. They have respect regardless.
In the second case, there is a call for respect for everyone. Their achievements, their abilities, their qualities do not matter. We just must have respect for them, for life. How does this affect each of us? Well it gives us the mandate to respect others, whether we think they are great or good or goofy. Respect belongs to the teacher, the student, the vendors, the businessmen and women, the preachers, the politicians, the homeless and even the misguided. Respect must be given to all.
Matthew 7:12 reminds us that we give respect to others in as much as we would want them to show us respect. Or as the old saying goes, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Young people today question the need to show respect to some of their elders and those in authority. A common question heard from them is “why should I respect someone who does not respect me?” Many times the question arises because the youth had been cautioned or corrected by the elder. Sometimes the youth is correct about the other person not showing respect. However if we all were only to show respect to those who show us respect then the world would be a very disturbing place. And the truth is that that is the road down which we are heading.
For example as an educator, I have met many young people who seek answers to similar questions. One young lady in particular kept complaining about another teacher. She spoke about the teacher in a rough and discourteous manner. The teacher had told her about her high level of absenteeism and the young lady felt that she was being unnecessarily chastised by someone who was not her mother. She could not understand why I was not supporting her attempts to disrespect the other teacher and kept repeating that if the teacher wanted her respect then she had to earn it.
The onus is on us, each one of us, to have respect for someone else. The teacher in question may not have been her mother but she was someone else’s mother. She was a parent substitute while the child was at school. She was responsible in part for the education of the young lady and so it was her duty to point out her shortcomings with the aim of improvement. The teacher was an elder and a person in authority. Most importantly, the teacher was a human being and so respect for her was imperative.
There is a story about one young man who was brilliant at the ordinary level examinations. He easily qualified for re-entry into his school to pursue studies at the advanced level. His performance for the first part of the course was lackluster. The reason was not immediately evident. However one day in a serious class discussion with the Form Teacher, the student was singled out and complemented for his attitude in the face of adversity – the student came from a poor, agricultural home. The student began to cry, the teacher was taken aback for that was not the intended result and the entire class gained new respect for the student.
From the very next day, there was a change in the student’s behavior. He was comfortable in the class. He began to respond to questions, he volunteered information and his performance in school tests showed marked improvement. The students began to look to him for guidance and assistance and he began to use his important resource, his teacher, more wisely. The point is that prior to the discussion, the student felt that he was not as good as the others, he felt his teacher did not see his merit and so he began to underperform. As soon as his worth was recognized the student began to blossom once again.
When I first moved into my own home, I would go out into the yard early each morning to walk around, sweep the yard, wash the car or some other chore. There was a destitute living in a neglected house nearby. I would usually call out ‘good morning’ to him and he in turn would answer and wish me a good day. Sometimes he would stop by to tell me about a passage of scripture or about counting one’s blessings.
He was considered to be either drunk or crazy or “high” by the neighbors because sometimes he would be cursing loudly as he walked through the street. One day I kept hearing this loud, offensive voice and was looking to see who it could be. To my surprise the man was walking up the hill, cursing. To my even greater surprise, he stopped being loud just as he reached in line with my yard, said a humble good morning, although he did not see me, then after passing my yard, he started cursing again. This happened on a few occasions so I knew it was not coincidental.
What had happened here? The man was showing respect for me by not being antagonistic in front of my home. It imbued hope in my heart for our people. If this man under the influence of some drug, could still remember to have respect at least some of the time then we could have respect for others all the time in our so called normal states.
But respect goes deeper than this. We ought to consider having respect for not just each individual but for collective individuals. By this I mean respect for country, for our flag, and our leaders. We need to demonstrate national pride. How can we do this? Why must we do this? If we wish to continue nation building, if we wish to move forward then we must have respect first for people then for our country and by extension all other countries.
When an athlete obtains a gold medal in the Olympics, he or she is given a national flag with which to make a victory lap. This is an outward demonstration of national pride. Respect for the flag demands that it be held a certain way and that it is not allowed to touch the ground. Many can relate to that feeling of elation on seeing their champion holding their flag with dignity and honour. When such events occur it brings a people together and engenders a sense of patriotism. Prejudices are forgotten.
It pains me to see people moving about or slumping with their hands behind their back during the singing of the national anthem. It is encouraging when principals and teachers work together to support patriotism in our young people by diligently singing the anthem at schools’ assemblies or functions and by leading by example as they stand militantly at attention. An extreme example of patriotism allegedly took place on May 6th 1919 at the opening ceremony of a pageant in Chicago, U.S.A. A spectator was shot by a member of the United States navy for not standing and removing his hat during the singing of the National Anthem. The offender deliberately did not stand, refused to stand when asked and drew a pistol before being shot.
The purpose of laws and rules is to help maintain civility. If there were no laws then anybody could do anything without any consequence. There would be total chaos. The world would not have developed as it has – for the young ones, chances are there would be no major technological breakthroughs, no one would have the time nor the inclination for such progress. Patents would have no meaning. No ‘whats app’!! No Candy Crush! No Facebook!
Compromising laws and rules can never be good. The reason for this can be likened to erosion – its effects are not immediate but over a period of time a cliff can be carved into a landscape. Similarly compromised laws over time lose their original intent. The laws are not punishments they are meant to remind us to act in certain socially acceptable manners. We are not isolated from each other; we need each other for survival and so we have to be considerate in our actions.
I always refer to the incident when a young man at a social event at Palmiste Park in South Trinidad, lost his life because he accidently stepped on another man’s new pair of shoes. Anger, lack of respect for the law and life, and an exaggerated sense of autonomy led to this unfortunate death.
A couple of years ago, I read an article about a local school’s basketball team in the U.S.A. The team had been in breach of one of the basketball association’s rules about the uniform. The rule demanded that one of the bands on the uniform be of a certain width. The team’s uniform was a fraction of an inch less than it should be and as a result of this reason the team was either disqualified or was unable to advance any further in the tournament. The ruling was justified by saying that if the judges were to allow this infringement now then there may be further reductions in the band width in the future leading to a gradual decrease in the acceptable size of the band.
This gradual dilution of acceptable standards is a pet peeve of mine. At our schools here in Trinidad, our students are given detailed information concerning their uniforms. If the parents do not see it fit to ensure that their children conform to the ruling of the school and not to popular fashion, then how would the children learn to respect rules – any rules? To have respect in little matters is to learn to have respect in larger matters. Rules of discipline, behavior and uniform are designed to instill certain virtues and moral codes in our youth in their preparation as productive and socially responsible citizens. The rules are not designed to act in isolation.
What about the grounding aspect of respect – self- respect? We are told to treat the body as a temple. By this premise we ought to have respect for our bodies, just as we have respect for God and His place of worship. It is our duty to fill our bodies all that is wholesome – physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. We must eat a balanced, nutritious diet, exercise regularly, pray, read uplifting literature, have good social interactions and be socially conscious. By the clothes we wear and the way we conduct ourselves we send clear messages about how we view ourselves. It is disgusting and offensive to see young people wearing their clothes in such a way that their underwear or their body parts are exposed. They are called underwear because we are supposed to wear them under other clothing- not partially on display!
Dressing in a certain manner reveals that the individual is seeking to stimulate a certain response from others. By dressing in a seductive manner, one conveys the impression of wanting or seeking sexual attention. Although the person may only be hoping for more admiring glances, the stimulus provided by the attire may produce uncontrollable hormonal urges which in turn may lead to undesirable actions and a host of unwanted outcomes. It becomes your responsibility then to have sufficient self-respect to dress and act modestly, which is not synonymous with boring or old fashioned.
Adults have the mandate to impart this wisdom to the youths. There is a lot of concern about crimes against young children in our country. There is a lot of outcry against it. There is also great pressure on our teachers to do their part to instill such virtues as respect to our students. This is all true and valid but it must be viewed in context. Respect must begin with self; it must be given without condition and received graciously. Respect has to be taught by elders and those in authority and it can be taught directly and indirectly by our behavior and attitude.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King Jr.