To say that respect is a hard to grasp concept is an understatement. Men view respect as acknowledging superiority, women view it as showing basic decency. Superiors view it as simple obedience, underlings as submission. In one culture it may imply to show deference, in another to show affection.
And this is not because respect is an elusive, undefined concept. But because we all have a rigid definition of what respect means to us, formed by the culture we are immersed in and reinforced by our peers.
However, all definitions of respect can be almost neatly divided into three categories. Understanding these three different categories can assist us in everyday social situations. They will help us to deduce which definition of respect a person is employing, to work out how to talk with them. They will help us to determine whether justice is being done or not. And they will make it easier to negotiate for better treatment from those around you.
1: Respect for your fellow man.
Commonly used by: women, children (who have learned it from their mothers and not yet altered the meaning), some EFL speakers from EU and African nations.
Meaning: “To show basic courtesy, decency. To not interfere with someone’s basic human rights. To not harm someone else’s property or make their lives uncomfortable.”
This definition is the most basic form of respect and, to many, does not mean respect at all. It is based on the concept of inclusion and exclusion and simply means that you will accept and treat the respected person as a part of your group, rather than as an outsider.
Example: “Everyone deserves to be treated with basic respect and kindness.”
How to display: Do not insult or attack anyone, be considerate of other’s feelings and ideas, give room for everyone, do not show undue preference.
2: Peer respect.
Or “voluntary respect”.
Commonly used by: blue collar men and women, between friends, fans.
Meaning: “To acknowledge a superior or equal trait or ability in someone whom you are not required to show admiration for.”
This definition refers to the act of observing a peer’s greater ability at cooking, stronger morals or similar tastes. It is based on the concept of hard-earned reward and means that if you work hard, in some way you will be repaid, even if not in resources.
Example: “Respect is earned, not given or taken.”
How to display: Treat those who you like or admire (for whatever reason) as slightly closer friends than they are, vocally acknowledge their ability, defer to their superiority only when they are relevant.
3: Enforced respect.
Commonly used by: white collar workers, students, teenagers, religious adherents, EFL speakers from Latin-American and Asian nations.
Meaning: “To defer to and obey a person based on a culturally predetermined rank.”
This definition refers to the culturally, legally and personally enforced subordination to someone whom your culture has placed above you. It is based on the concept that rank earns certain rights (might makes right) and that you must follow your intellectual, moral, skilled or physical superiors.
Example: “You must show your boss respect at all times.”
How to display: Work out the group hierarchy, obey the highest individual, do not use bad language around them, or disagree with them openly.
When we put these three concepts together we end up with respect as a triangular diagram, with everyone’s definitions sitting somewhere between the three. But based on associated words, what we know about the person and the context in which they use the word, we can work out what they actually mean, rather than assume their meaning and ours is identical, or even similar.
What does respect mean to you?
TTFN and Happy Hunting!