Who Do You Respect?


There is a common adage that is found throughout a number of cultures that I am sure most people are at least aware of, even if they have not encountered it in quite the same way I am about to pass it along here. The adage is usually phrased:

“Respect is Earned Not Given.”

One culture this adage is commonly found in is the Armed Forces (prevalently within the U.S. Armed Forces).

The adage basically says that I, as an individual, should be free to respect whom and what I wish, and that I need not give out that respect indiscriminately without some sort of valued exchange between myself and the person I am imparting my respect to. At least that is my oversimplified explanation, for now.

The blog site TypingAdventure has an interesting take on the adage that may be found here.

I’ll give TypingAdventure kudos for at least recognizing that even though the adage (or idiom, as they refer to it) is expressed in terms of an absolute, even though it does not always make sense as an absolute. Believe it or not, a lot of people that use this phrase (I might say “fire off this phrase” – meaning that they use it as a retort to another individual they are either putting down or are demanding that they live up to their standards) never comprehend whether or not the statement is an absolute, and if not, exactly where the lines are for how and why they use it.

There is a hubris to the way that this adage is used. As if you must first meet my standards before I extend to you, my respect. When indeed, I should respect all people equally. There is little to no consideration as to whether or not I meet your standards, only that you earn my respect.

Perhaps we may understand this better by looking at exactly what is meant by respect. The key words in the definition are worth, esteem, honor, and excellence. These are value words in that they express the merit or importance of an object. And perhaps this is where the adage had its origins. The idea of I am not going to extend to you something of value (even if that something is as simple as recognizing your value) until you first show me that you are worth that value (in my own estimation of course). And thus, people use the adage not to build people up, but rather to tear them down. When I tell you that you must earn my respect, I am telling you that you need to prove your worth to me in such a way as I see fit. And in doing so I have tied my respect to my expectations. Which are two separate things. Whether I have high, or low expectations of an individual should have nothing to do with my respect for them. All people are deserving of my respect, whether they have earned it or not.

If we consider this from our three base world views, we arrive at three very different outcomes.

If you are atheistic in your world view, I would argue that whether you receive or give respect is meaningless. If you do not believe in any god, let alone The One True God, then you seriously need to consider the fact that there is no design, rhyme, or reason to the universe (I guess I should make that multiverse in today’s world if you want to apply credence to String Theory allowing for infinite possibilities). The simple fact of the matter should be that everything is just the result of the natural laws of the universe (that we express in terms of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). There is no free will, no expression of thought, and certainly no individuality. It is all just happening (including yourself) in whatever predetermined order was set in motion when it all started (the Big Bang, if that is what you ascribe to). It is all meaningless. Including whether or not you respect someone or are respected by them. For the atheist, having someone earn their respect should not be that big a deal. The outcome is the same either way. And that outcome is that atoms continue to bump into each other, and the universe goes on.

If you are agnostic in your world view, one would at least hope that in your live and let live world you would see the importance of respecting others in the hope that they would in turn respect you. The agnostic truly can claim to strive for harmony through some semblance of equality in that they need a somewhat level playing field for their world view to stabilize. That is the agnostic is simply trying to get through life regardless of the outcome on the other end.

If you are theistic in your world view, I would argue that you have an obligation to respect others. The theist recognizes that we are all part of the Creator’s bigger plan. That we were all made by Him and that we were all created equal. By respecting you, I am respecting the work of the Creator and acknowledging that He has a grander plan. Most major world religions teach this as a basic foundation.

There is one religion however, Christianity, that makes it very clear that we are to respect all people. In Philippines 2:2-4 Paul writes:

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (KJV)

Paul was very likely familiar with Jesus’ own teachings as recorded in Mark 9:33-37. Jesus told his disciples that they should be servants of all. And Paul tells us we should esteem others better than ourselves. This is the very essence of respect.

For the Christian, understanding that God, our very Creator, demands respect, and one day every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus. And if I, the creation, am obligated to the point of all of creation being compelled, to show my respect to Jesus Christ, the Creator, who am I to withhold my respect from any other of His creation?

Respect is not earned. Respect is demanded of the Creator for all of His creation and flows from Him and through Him, and ultimately results in His Honor and His Glory, and His Praise. Forever and ever.

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