Saturday, September 23, 2006


A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece called “That’s TeRRiFiC” and I told you that it stood for 6 ethics: Namely Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness and Compassion/Caring & Citizenship. These were not my idea – though the word “TeRRiFiCC” was – they come from a website called Character Counts. Last time I dwelt on the ethic of Trustworthiness – This time I hope to write about RESPECT.

What is Respect? From a young age, we are taught to respect our parents and grandparents, and also our teachers and authority in general. But how does a child respect his parents? Does respect imply unquestioning and immediate obedience? Does respect imply that one cannot criticise the actions of someone you respect? Does a lack of respect imply rebellion?

I have looked at a number of websites to get a better idea of what is respect. Did you know that The British Governement has a website devoted entirely to this subject. On their home page the statement appears: “Respect cannot be learned, purchased or acquired – it can only be earned.” I would only add that respect may be demanded but where it is demanded it unlikely to be supplied.

Parents want their children to respect them. They then look for signs of that respect, such as obedience and politeness. These things may indicate respect or, they may merely indicate fear. A more telling indicator of respect for a parent is the extent to which a child will confide in them. You see, politeness and obedience may be done out of fear of the consequences of not being polite and not obeying. But a person will never open up and confide in a person for whom they have no respect. I am sure many a professional counsellor or psychologist would endorse what I have just said.

I think there are two essential ingredients to gaining the respect of others:

1. You respect yourself.

2. You respect others.

A basic component of respect is acceptance. Acceptance of another person that although he or she is different from yourself you accept them the way they are. Thus if we are to respect ourselves, we need to accept ourselves. A lot has been said in recent years about something called “self-esteem.” When you do a self-evaluation how do you see yourself? Do you focus on your achievements? Do you think about your relationships? Perhaps you look back over all the mistakes you’ve made in life. Do you look at the different roles you have in life, parent, child, student, worker, employer, etc.? Maybe you reflect on your bank balance or your assets, as they are how you quantify your worth? These things can lead to discontent and a very poor self-image. As a Christian, I look to the Bible for affirmations of my value. Since the Bible is God’s word and the Bible contains many affirmations of who I am in Jesus Christ, I can be sure that these statements are true about me:

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.

John 15:1, 5 I am the true vine and my father is the husbandman… I am the true vine, ye are the branches. He that abides in me and I in him , the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.

Using these affirmations and many others in the Word of God, I can say God loves me, and so I can love me. This must not be confused with conceit or vanity. By reading the Bible, I realise that God has a job for me to do. (Eph. 2:8-10) As such my input is valued and valuable. If I know that I can respect myself. In that lies my respect for the value of others. If a person is struggling with a low self-esteem, it is highly likely that they will not esteem others either.

We need to help children develop healthy self-esteems. Children will learn self-respect when they see that we respect them. The best teacher of respect is to model respect.

When your eight year old is talking to you, do you really listen? How does the child know that you are listening?

If a child is in his or her room and the door is shut, do you knock before entering?

Do you talk about your child to other adults in their hearing? Is such talk positive?

Do you thank your child when he or she does something in an effort to please you, even if the result might not have turned out quite as they or you would have liked?

When a reprimand is called for, how is it delivered? Have you allowed your child the chance to defend himself?

When you have wronged your child, have you apologised?

Does your speech affirm your child? Is there anything that you say to the child which when said to another person would be regarded as demeaning, an insult, ridicule? (You may be tempted to rationalize that you did not mean it in that way. The thing is, it’s not the intended meaning but how it is understood that is important.)

If your child senses that you respect her or him, she or he will naturally learn what it is to respect and she or he will show that respect in many ways. When it is necessary to point out a lack of respect, children will be more receptive if they themselves have been respected.

You also need to model respect to your children by being respectful of all people, especially spouses, your parents and parents-in-law, the child’s school teacher, authority figures such as traffic police, one’s own employer and political leaders. (No-one said it was easy!)

I am referring a great deal to parents, but the responsibility of modelling respect is not only theirs but everyone who comes into contact with children and who can influence children. I say that, because I am not a parent. However I am a teacher and I need to respect my students, so that they will also respect their teachers and one another.

I pointed out that obedience and politeness can be shown to a person you don’t necessarily respect, but it is true to say, that if you respect somebody you will be willing to be obedient and polite towards them. Respect and Trust are very closely related. As I mentioned before, somebody would not confide in a person they don’t respect. For that matter, the person will not confide in a person they do not trust.

So, in summary, Respect engenders acceptance, obedience, politeness, and trust. The same might be said of love. 1 Corinthians 13 talks about what love is. Love surpasses respect in the sense that it is possible to love people who you do not respect (that takes a special kind of love.) it is very difficult not to love people you do respect.

Respect engenders acceptance. You show respect to your neighbour by accepting that they are different to yourself. We should be able to accept people of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. This means we don’t make racial jokes. We don’t ridicule another’s religion or make fun of aspects of their culture.

As pointed out on the Child and Youth Health web site: If people are behaving badly towards you and hurting you or your feelings, then you cannot, and must not, respect their unkind behaviour. Bullying and harassment should never be tolerated. (

Respect engenders obedience: If you respect authority, you will obey, provided the demand is reasonable. If we respect a person, we will try and do what they ask us to do, again if the request is reasonable. If for some reason we cannot do something that we are requested to do, we will explain to the person why we can’t do it, rather than simply ignore the request.

Respect engenders politeness. Common courtesies go a long way to building relationships. Courtesy is a very wide-ranging subject and difficult to encapsulate everything. I need to state here that even if for whatever reason, you do not respect an individual you ought to still be polite and deal with your differences in a “respectable manner.”

I finish off with a quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest:

“Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.”