Disrespect is Earned, Not Given

I’ve written a few times, about how much I hate certain words and phrases, but I want to talk about the words ‘respect’ and ‘disrespect.’  I don’t hate them in and of themselves, but both words tend to bother me at least 50% of the time I run across them.

I hate them, in those instances, because people presume some worthiness or in many cases unworthiness that I don’t think are always there.  9 out of 10 people assume they deserve respect, and for whatever reason, it is also assumed that they deserve it regardless of from whom, or how they behave.

I think this is why we have this cliche’d phrase “Respect is earned, not given.”  I get it, and I don’t fully agree or disagree with it, I just think it is incomplete.  I think as a human being (although I would probably extend this to animals) you start off deserving a certain level of respect.  This respect level is given solely based on your human-ness (not humanity).  This respect level can be improved upon, if you’re kind, responsible, selfless, heroic, ambitious, or any other of a number of good traits; and it can be lowered or removed if you unreliable, unkind, selfish, violent, or any other of a number of bad traits.  So I think it’s incomplete.

What I prefer, is my own amended version of the saying, which is “disrespect is earned, not given.”  I think it is slightly more complete, and perhaps if people thought about it this way, they wouldn’t have the chip on their shoulder that most people do about respect.  Because that’s a huge part of the ‘respect’ problem, we think we deserve it, but we think everyone else has to earn it.  It’s why when I hear someone say “that’s really disrespectful…” at least 50% of the time I cringe and want to say “I don’t think you get to use that word anymore.

I’m also tired of this idea that just because you think someone deserves respect, doesn’t mean that everyone must respect them.  Whether it’s the President, or the Pope, or Jim Bakker, or Pat Robertson, or any number of controversial figures, them garnering a position of power, or a large following, doesn’t mean we have to respect them.

This idea of people who ‘must be respected by all’ is problematic, because some people are deserving of your respect, but not deserving of my respect.  Take the founding father’s for example, everyone loves to stroke the ‘egos’ of the founding fathers, because they helped form what would become the great nation we know today, but some of them were slave owners.  It is foolish, and honestly a little dishonest, to say that the founding father’s deserve the respect—or perhaps that they don’t deserve the disrespect—of the black people they enslaved, or the ones whom they never met but helped to allow to remain enslaved for 87 years.  But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t achieve something excellent, it just means that perhaps respect is in the eyes of the bestower, and you are free to respect them, and others are free to not.

How do you feel about respect and disrespect?  Tell me in the comments below.

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