In this first, introductory dialogue, two friends, RLF and LS, try to determine what respect is, who or what deserves respect and why.
RLF: First of all, my friend, let’s begin by talking about what we mean by showing respect for someone.
LS: I’ll try to make a start at defining respect; I think it’s similar to ‘valuing’.
RLF: What do you mean, exactly – valuing whom for what reason?
LS: Good question. Why do we value something?
RLF: Well, we put value on something because we think it has value.
LS: That doesn’t get us very far, does it? Why do we value something? What does it mean to say we value something?
RLF: I suppose it means that we look upon it as something that is good, something worthy of our thinking it valuable.
LS: So, for example, we can look at a diamond, and value it, but why do we say we value, or that it has value?
RLF: Because if we can sell it, we get a lot of money for it.
LS: And money also has value then?
RLF: Of course it has value. Our whole society is based upon our valuing money, isn’t it?
LS: That is very true, but should the value we place on money extend the value we place on other things?
RLF: If you say things, then I think we should place our value on money above all other things.
LS: Tell me why exactly.
RLF: Because we can use money to buy anything we need. All things cost money. Everything has its price.
LS: I’ll concede that, for the moment. What about other object – I don’t want to use the word things again. What about people? Why do we value people?
RLF: Because we have been brought up to value people, surely.
LS: That sounds reasonable, except that it’s clear that some people have not been brought up that way. What can you say about people who do not value other people?
RLF: I think we can say that anyone who does not value other people has no value himself.
LS: And how can such a person become like that?
RLF: By not being valued himself, I think.
LS: Can you give me an example?
RLF: Yes, I should think that a person who has not been valued by his parents or his siblings – his brothers and sisters, or who has not been valued by anyone – such an unfortunate person surely wouldn’t value anyone else. Why should he?
LS: So you would say that valuing others begins with other people valuing you, would you?
RLF: Absolutely. It starts with self-respect – with knowing one’s own value.
LS: Which is in itself a learned behavior.
RLF: Exactly. We learn to value others if we ourselves are valued. If we are not valued by anyone, how can we possibly value anyone else?
LS: I am sure you are right, my friend. Now, my next question is; what is it that is valued in someone? What is it that we value in others?
RLF: For a start, I would say that people value those who they feel value them.
LS: So it is a reciprocal thing, is it? I value you to the same extent that you value me.
RLF: I would say so, yes.
LS: So someone who imagines they have no value, who perceives, rightly or wrongly, that they are not valued by anyone else, has no value for others. Is that what you think?
RLF: Yes, I do.
LS: Then how are we to proceed with that one person? How can we value him if he refuses to value anyone?
RLF: I suppose that for most people like that, they go through their lives as though they don’t care anything about the opinions of others.
LS: Which leads them to behave how, exactly?
RLF: I should think they do anything they want, regardless of what people’s opinions are.
LS: So they do anything they want?
RLF: Yes, I should think so.
LS: But what does that person want? Do you think that person can be the best judge of what is best for him?
RLF: Of course he is. Who has the right to tell him how to live his life? He lives it as he sees fit.
LS: Regardless of what anyone else says to the contrary?
RLF: Regardless, yes.
LS: Then what part do the laws of the land play in his life?
RLF: He has to abide by them, like the rest of us.
LS: But if he doesn’t abide by what the law says, what then?
RLF: Then obviously, if he breaks the law, he must be made to stop doing whatever it is that he is doing.
LS: So we do have a right to tell him what is right and what is wrong?
RLF: The law does, yes.
LS: And who or what is the law?
RLF: It is all of us; working through rules we have agreed upon and made into laws.
LS: Then what can we value of him, if he breaks the law?
RLF: There is nothing in him to value.
RLF: Only that part of him that acquiesces to our laws.
LS: And if he refuses, what then?
RLF: Then we incarcerate him.
LS: We lock him up?
RLF: Yes, we put him where he can no longer do us any harm.
LS: For ever?
RLF: That depends upon the severity of his crime, surely.
LS: So if his crime is deemed to not be severe, we let him out again.
RLF: Yes, that is what we do.
LS: And when he does it again, we throw him into prison - for a bit longer this time.
RLF: That’s correct.
LS: What can we do to stop him if periods of imprisonment fail?
RLF: WE can try to educate him – to rehabilitate him.
LS: In what way? How do we teach him?
RLF: By showing him that his way is not the best way.
LS: Or not the right way? And how do we begin, I wonder?
RLF: By showing him some respect, first of all. I can’t imagine how we could educate him without showing him that he is worthy of the time we are going to spend rehabilitating him.
LS: And when he has been respected, then what?
RLF: Then we release him and let him get on with his life. We give him some self-respect by the very act of us respecting him.
LS: Hoping, presumably, that his new found respect for himself leads to a respect for others, and that he doesn’t commit any more wrongdoings.
So, let me ask you again. What is there in this man we can now value?
RLF: That he has some value for us. If he shows us respect, we should show him some too.
LS: But, if it is known that he has been in prison, most people will give him a wide berth – they will avoid him, won’t they?
RLF: Yes, they will, of course.
LS: So what can he do to change this?
RLF: He can live his life in ways that show others he can be trusted to value them and what they have that he does not have.
LS: So he must behave in ways we approve of if we are to ever value him again?
RLF: Yes, I think that is right.
LS: So he must conform to our ways?
RLF: Some of them, yes.
LS: And what ways might those be?
RLF: Well, he must begin by not breaking our laws, so that we no longer feel threatened by his presence in our midst.
LS: And how can he do that? How can he succeed in showing us that he deserves our respect?
RLF: As I have said; by behaving in normal ways, ways that do not contravene – go against what we think is valued.
LS: Can you give examples of these ways?
RLF: Yes, he can start by being trustworthy and decent, by treating us in the same manner as he would like to be treated by others.
LS: That is to say morally – he must behave in ways that are moral.
RLF: Yes, I would say that is essential.
LS: What would you say if he became successful in a financial sense? Should we still respect him?
LS: I see where you are leading me here. I would say that if he earns his money in lawful ways, then we should respect him.
LS: But if he has earned his wealth by doing something illegal or immoral – like selling drugs to young people, then we shouldn’t respect him. Is that what you are saying?
RLF: Yes, of course. If he has made money out of someone else’s misery, he should not be deserving of our value – of our respect. On the contrary, he should be dealt with by the law of the land.
LS: And locked up again?
RLF: If he goes against our laws, yes, he should be locked up.
LS: So his wealth cannot or should not work in his favour?
RLF: As I just said, if he has got it by unlawful means, then no, he should not be held in our esteem.
LS: What about the rich industrialist who has made his money through the manufacture of weapons – guns? What is he deserving of?
RLF: Unfortunately, making armaments that can be used to kill people, is not necessarily against the law. If he is licensed to make guns, he is acting within the law.
LS: But there are people who believe he has no right, morally, to manufacture weapons that are used to kill and injure people.
RLF: Then of course, such people will not value him in any way.
LS: So we cannot, in fact, rely on the law of the land to show us who to value and who not to value.
RLF: Yes, I see what you mean.
LS: Then what are we to do? Who are we to value if the laws of our land cannot help us?
RLF: I should say that one sure way is to value those who behave in a morally correct way.
LS: Those and no others?
RLF: You would have to provide examples to test me. I would have difficulty in finding some all encompassing characteristic to value – except that moral one. If a person behaves in ways that are morally correct – if that person does nothing against another person in any moral sense, then that person is deserving of our respect.
LS: Let’s begin with a question that will help us to focus our thoughts.
RLF: That is always a good way to begin a debate. What is our question?
LS: I am glad you refer to the question as our question. Let’s see; who should be deserving of our respect? Would that help us to begin?
RLF: I am not sure about including the word ‘should’.
RLF: Because it seems to put us under an obligation to respect someone.
LS: And what is your objection to that?
RLF: That our respect flows from us and us alone.
LS: But we have already hinted that those who live within our laws are deserving of our respect, haven’t we?
RLF: OK then, in that sense we should not object to the word ‘should’ in our question.
LS: Who is deserving of our respect? Does that sound better?
RLF: Yes, I think it does. It asks us a question without conditions or obligations on our part.
LS: Right, then let’s try to answer it. Let’s give specific examples of people and see if we think they are deserving of our respect.
RLF: These people – we must know something about them, if we are to respect them. Do you think that is right?
LS: Yes, but think about the person before us – a man of extreme physical strength, for example. Would we respect him because he looks threatening, physically?
RLF: I think we would definitely feel something akin to respect. It might just be that kind of feeling we call respect, but which is actually a shade of fear.
LS: And that is not the same thing as respect, is it?
RLF: Not at all. Fear passes for respect and that is why so many confuse the two.
LS: Because those they fear, they respect?
RLF: Something like that. I don’t think people differentiate fear from respect – we often think the two are similar.
LS: That is surely because they make us react in similar ways. We defer to those we fear and we do the same to those we fear, I think.
RLF: But the feeling instigated by fear cannot be the same as the one caused by respect.
LS: How are they different?
RLF: Fear can usually lead to loathing and resentment, and then a reaction against that feeling of being afraid – we say, don’t we, that the worms turns – meaning that even those oppressed by fear will eventually rise up against those that are feared. Respect instigates no such feelings. On the contrary, a feeling of real respect will usually turn into a feeling of admiration and affection.
LS: I think that is exactly right. And that’s a great way of differentiating the two; by talking about what each one can lead to: fear leads to hatred, whereas respect can lead to affection.
RLF: Yes, and only a fool, or a coward allows his fear to turn into affection.
LS: Yes, I think that is correct.
RLF: Now that we have cleared up that confusion, let’s talk about specific people – leaders, for example.
LS: Can we talk about two famous people in history: Sir Winston Churchill, the British wartime leader, and Marshall Stalin, the former leader of the Soviet Union?
RLF: WE can, but why do you think we should? Tell me.
LS: I would like you to think of both as extremely powerful men, with extremely powerful personalities. But who would you respect and who would you fear?
RLF: Well, being British myself, I would have to say that I would fear Lenin and respect Churchill, even though both were indeed powerful men.
LS: Why would you not fear Churchill? Did he not have the power of life or death over people?
RLF: No, not at all. Even though he had all the tenacity of a British bulldog, he had no power over the individual’s life. He could send that person to fight, but he could not have him harmed in any way directly. What had people to fear from Churchill?
LS: Whereas, the people of Russia had enough reason to fear Stalin – individually?
RLF: Stalin had the power, the ability and the willingness to destroy those who opposed him in any way.
LS: And so the people feared him?
RLF: Yes, I believe they did.
LS: But now, he is revered as a great leader – someone deserving of respect, is he not?
RLF: That is because any fear of him has faded, with his death in 1953. How can you be afraid of someone who is dead?
LS: So you say that he is respected but not feared?
RLF: Yes, the respect – the so called respect that we now say we feel for him is diluted from the fear of him.
LS: All that is left then is respect.
RLF: But I would have to say that is not real respect, it is a sort of fossil of the fear he instilled in his subjects, and that is not respect.
LS: Perhaps another way of looking at the difference between fear and respect is to ask which one inspires people to do something to the best of their ability.
RLF: Both might be aid to do that, but I think fear does it by making people afraid of the consequences of their doing something badly, whereas respect – and love- inspire. Fear never inspires, it threatens.
LS: That’s well said, respect, which can lead to real affection surely inspires people to excel.
RLF: So respect is a more potent feeling that fear?
LS: I would say so, yes.
RLF: And leaders would do well to remember that, I think.
LS: What other attributes lead one person to respect another?
Robert L. Fielding