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Respect is earned

Here's my theory of respect.

Everyone deserves some level of basic respect, just for being a fellow human being. This kind of respect means that I won't step on your toes, I'll smile and nod when you talk, I'll hold the door for you. This kind of respect isn't worth much.

The important kind of respect is the one where I will listen carefully to things you say and give your words a lot of consideration and weight. When we disagree, I will sometimes give you the benefit of a doubt (where applicable) and believe your opinion over my own. I will consider you to be a good person. I will want to emulate you. I will make every effort to treat you especially well. Your opinion of me will matter to me. The dictionary uses the words "deference" and "esteem" and that's accurate.

This is the kind of respect that's worth a lot. This is the kind of respect I hope to earn from people (though I don't know how much I succeed), and the people I respect in this way are the ones I seek out in life, the people I want to be around.

Here are just a few things that will not automatically earn you my respect (in the latter, important sense).

  • Being older than me.
  • Being friendly to me.
  • Being related to me.
  • Being clergy.
  • Being rich.
  • Being famous for something silly (e.g. sports, acting, singing)
  • Having a higher position than me in a company.
  • Being respected by lots of other people for a stupid reason.
  • Demanding my respect.

Let's take age, for example. I agree that we should always respect the elderly to a degree, in the superficial sense; I'll hold the door extra long for them. Staying alive a long time is hard in this world, so kudos for that.

But just because you're old doesn't mean your opinion is worth more than mine, or indeed, worth anything at all. In fact many times it's the opposite. Some people grew up in different times, when racism, sexism, homophobia and such were universal, and while many people have changed since then, many others haven't. For example...

While 41 percent Americans under 45 support legalizing gay marriage, only 18 percent of Americans over 65 agree, and nearly half of seniors do not think there should be any legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

41% sucks, but it's way better than 18%. To some degree I can't blame older people for still believing these things; the world was different 65+ years ago, literally everyone had horrid beliefs. People tend to adopt the opinions of society at the time they were raised. Probably I hold some beliefs myself today that will seem horrific in 50 years because I'm too ignorant to see how they're wrong.

However, in another sense, I very much can and do blame anyone who clings to a harmful belief. There's no excuse for it. Age isn't an excuse.

This doesn't just apply to social issues, though social issues are a good example. It could be beliefs about programming practices or views of science and medicine or anything else.

If people progressively learned things over time and used those things to inform their beliefs, then yeah, old people would always be the smartest/wisest people around, and I would respect older people universally. But that often doesn't happen. Many people (of all ages) stop, decide their beliefs are perfect, and cling to them until they die. Many people use their accumulated knowledge and experience to come up with clever (but wrong) justifications for their crappy beliefs. Or they just don't care.

Age is perhaps a necessary condition for wisdom, but it's not a necessary and sufficient condition. Older people definitely have the most potential for wisdom, but many people seem to squander that potential. Sometimes I suspect that society advances not by lots of people changing their minds, but by people with crappy beliefs getting old and dying and leaving a new generation behind with incrementally better beliefs. (I don't know if this is correct. Someone should do a study.)

Being family doesn't excuse your crappy beliefs either. Nor does being my boss, being a pop star, being rich or anything else. If your beliefs suck, I will look down upon you for that.

Here are some things that will earn you my respect.

  • Being demonstrably intelligent, rational, skilled and ethical, valuing the truth, and having a desire to improve oneself over time.

Oh wait, there's just that one.

I'm lucky that some of my family members are intelligent and reasonably rational and ethical. But many aren't, and I don't respect those ones. I've had bosses who were worthy of respect and some who weren't, and I didn't last long at jobs where they weren't. I'm perplexed that celebrities speak and people listen to them; what have they done to earn the right to be listend to?

I am confused and saddened by societies where people are supposed to "respect their elders", in the sense of giving their opinions weight, or to be unconditionally loyal to their families. What a horrible idea.

Personally, I had many horrible beliefs in my youth, partly due to the sucky place I grew up, partly due to the ignorance and na?vet? of youth, partly due personal weakness, or who knows what. I gave my beliefs long consideration and got rid of many of them. Theist => atheist, "homosexuality is wrong" => "no it's not, you idiot" and so on.

I don't think I can be blamed (much) for the sucky things my brain absorbed as a child, but if I still believed those things as an adult, I should absolutely be blamed and judged for them. If I still ignorantly believe stupid things right now, I should be blamed and judged for that (and I hope someone will point it out). I don't want anyone to respect me unless I've earned it.

December 03, 2009 @ 4:16 PM PST
Cateogory: Rants
Tags: Rants


Quoth Observer on December 03, 2009 @ 8:08 PM PST

Well put!

Todd Partridge
Quoth Todd Partridge on December 03, 2009 @ 10:26 PM PST

Respect is earned by what a person does. Respect is especially earned when that person continues to do under duress. I noticed that people that have earned respect are the least to give it up. I worry little about how others respect me, that does not seem respect.

Andres F.
Quoth Andres F. on December 04, 2009 @ 12:57 AM PST

Agreed to a disturbing level.

Perhaps the most important trait is the unending desire to improve over time, as you could say that the rest are a product of it.

Jonathan Gardner
Quoth Jonathan Gardner on December 04, 2009 @ 7:57 AM PST

Categorizing people into groups and treating different groups differently for it is called bigotry. It doesn't matter if you're bigoted against people because they have one belief or another, it's still wrong.

Yes, beliefs and ideas can be wrong and bad and we should be actively debating our opposing beliefs and ideas. But any person can have some right ideas and some wrong ideas, and to completely throw out a person's opinion because of a handful of beliefs is really stupid. How many great programmers have some very weird ideas? All of them, perhaps?

In addition to this, there are some very compelling reasons why people believe different things. You would be wise to respectfully seek out those reasons and respectfully judge them on their merits alone. The next time someone states an opinion contrary to yours, meet them with an open mind and allow them to answer why, regardless of how right you think you are.

With that note, I am no respecter of persons. I respect ideas and ideals. I know full well how corrupt people can become over time, no matter what motivates them, and so I separate the man from his ideas.

Quoth Wesley on December 05, 2009 @ 5:26 AM PST

@Jonathan: where was it stated that he throws out everything someone says if they hold certain beliefs? Where was it stated that he refuses to hear any justification for contrary views, or wouldn't have an open mind about being wrong? You seem to be attacking points which aren't there.

"Categorizing people into groups and treating different groups differently for it is called bigotry. It doesn't matter if you're bigoted against people because they have one belief or another, it's still wrong."

So saying "murderers are bad" is bigotted? Judging someone for their beliefs and actions is the only rational way to judge someone (unlike skin color, sex, etc.). It's impossible not to judge people on any level at all, and judging isn't even necessarily a bad thing.

Benjamin V.
Quoth Benjamin V. on December 05, 2009 @ 1:33 PM PST

"I am confused and saddened by societies where people are supposed to "respect their elders", in the sense of giving their opinions weight, or to be unconditionally loyal to their families. What a horrible idea."

I heartily concur. My relatives and family consists largely of ministers, future ministers, missionaries, or ex-missionary ministers. The lot of them have typical fundamentalist Christian opinions (quivers, Jesus was a capitalist, homosexuals are evil, you know). I show them the basic respect and courtesy that I see as deserved by all people, but the notion that I ought to lend credence to their opinions based on family ties or cultural standards is, to me, ludicrous. I simply can not revere their oft-nonsensical opinions based solely on their genetic similarity or relative age.

@Jonathan: If a man is not his ideas, then what is he? I don't think your bit about bigotry quite hits the point that was discussed. Such persons as discussed by Brian may have logical or worthwhile opinions on some things, and I'd like to think anyone worth his salt would evaluate things on a case by case basis over rejecting (or accepting) anything outright based on anything other than the reasonability or validity of the argument/opinion. I think much of what Brian is trying to say is that the cultural ideas of giving credence to someone's idea based on things unrelated to the idea is not a good idea.

Quoth Joel on December 05, 2009 @ 3:28 PM PST

"I'm perplexed that celebrities speak and people listen to them; what have they done to earn the right to be listend to?"

Brian, has this happened to you recently?

But I hear ya'. What gets me especially is 'Traditions'. "It's been done for generations so it must be good/right". Pft. Whatever.

Looking through your list, being rich could be a cause for respect though, if the person earned the wealth themselves (i.e. didn't inherit the wealth), through good ideas, good business decisions, or whatever.

Hmmm... Just to clarify, by listing sports, acting, and singing, are you saying that you don't respect people in the entertainment industry, or just people in those industries?

Watching Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, or listening to, say, Urethra Franklin sing, certainly is inspiring. The dedication and practice that these people put in, and to see the results, they've got the keys to at least some level of success that I don't have (and no, don't blame it all on talent; instead read Geoff Colvin's "Talent is Overrated" book). But perhaps you were referring to less successful people...

Quoth Brian on December 05, 2009 @ 5:57 PM PST


In addition to this, there are some very compelling reasons why people believe different things.

Most of the time I don't care that people disagree and I value difference of opinion. But there are some beliefs that are inexcusable, e.g. racism, sexism. I don't particularly care why people have those beliefs.

I don't completely discount a person for having one bad belief, people aren't that simple and I recognize this.

@Joel I respect people who do well at some form of art for their art. But I don't necessarily respect or look up to them as people, respect them for for their beliefs or value their opinions. Look how many famous singers or actors or sports stars are alcoholics or drug addicts, show up in the news for racist tirades or some other horrible behavior. Some artists are probably good people but you don't have to be a good person to be an artist.

Being rich could be because you had rich parents, or because you lied and cheated. Or it could be that you're an ethical and hard-working person. I'd respect the latter.

(PS Joel sorry your comment was eaten. You have to type COWS in the field right below the text field.)

Tiago Caxias
Quoth Tiago Caxias on December 06, 2009 @ 6:04 PM PST

Thank you, Brian. Your words soothed my mind. It is always pleasing to read some peaceful and respectful ideas. I almost begin to regain some faith in humankind.

Ed Jacobson
Quoth Ed Jacobson on December 24, 2009 @ 2:35 PM PST

My respect was building up as I was reading your theory on respect. I agreed with everything up to the point where you reveal your belief that homosexual marriage should be legalized. It's possible that you don't understand the politics behind the homosexual marriage thing. You may be a victim of the mind control for the past few decades. Many people are. Most people don't wake up until after they have become victims. Many victims don't even wake up. In the 60's alot of homosexuals got into law. At this time, about half the lawyers and judges in Canada are homosexual. Some media stations are infiltrated by homosexuals. In 2005, the laws were changed in Canada so that all instances of the words "natural parent" were removed from the codes and replaces with "legal parent". Since the change of that law, natural parents in Canada no longer have parenting rights. A high percentage of children that are put up for adoption are given to homosexual couples. There are cases where hospitals have been caught trafficking in children, where which they tell the natural parents that the baby died (a lie) and then put the child up for adoption to most likely homosexual couples. I know a case right now where a man was stripped of parenting rights by a man-hating judge in a typical divorce suit in the family court divorce industry of hell, and gave custody of the child to the mother. Later on, child protection took the kid away from the mother because of abuse. The father is trying to get his kid, but can't because the evil people of the system are handing the kid over to a homosexual couple. There is a Nazi/socialist takover happening in both Canada and USA, where they are taking away our fundamental rights one at a time, and the majority of the people are clueless about it.

Anonymous Cow
Quoth Anonymous Cow on January 21, 2010 @ 8:58 PM PST

@Ed Jacobsen: [citation needed]