In my line of work I all-too-often encounter the type of people who are demanding of respect. These people are also the ones who are the most overly obsessed with the concept of “respect” and being “respected.”  They are overly sensitive towards what they perceive as being “disrespected” or slighted. These people use the word “respect” like it were nothing more than a cheap slang buzzword, and they have no idea whatsoever about what true respect even is. Often they have their own twisted value system to define respect and what is considered worthy of it.

These are also the psychopathic kind of people who not only demand personal respect, but are also overly demanding that their rights and property be respected as well, while at the same time displaying little regard for the respect, rights, and property of others. In dealing with this type of person on a daily basis, it made me consider my own thoughts on the concept of respect.

It seems to me that those who are the most outwardly obsessed with the concept of respect are usually the ones who deserve it the least. I am a firm believer that true respect is earned and never demanded, but the way I see it, there are basically two kinds of respect: basic respect and true respect. Like most things in life, these categories fall along opposite ends of a spectrum. The center point of this spectrum is common courtesy, general politeness, and manners.

Basic respect is on the extreme negative end of the spectrum, and is the absolute lowest form of respect. It is treating someone with absolutely nothing more than basic human rights and dignity. This could include nothing more than providing food, water, a prison cell for shelter, a fair trial, and a humane execution. This is the absolute bare bones level of humane treatment, reserved for the absolute extreme worst examples of humanity.

The purveyors and orchestrators of genocide and mass slaughter, and the truly evil on a large scale, would fall on this end of the spectrum. They may be terrible evil people, unworthy of freedom, trust, respect, and friendship, but in theory a civilized society still extends them basic human rights and dignity, free from cruel and unusual punishment. Obviously most people, even the truly heinous, do not usually fall on the extreme end of the spectrum.

The center point of this spectrum is common courtesy and manners, and it reflects the general interactions with people that we come into contact with in our daily lives. It is treating those we meet in passing, or don’t really know well, with common courtesy and politeness. It is the baseline for which most socially well-adjusted people treat each other. If someone is rude or wrongs you, or you learn something about them which you find offensive, then your perception of them will fall a degree on the spectrum, and it will govern the way further interactions with that person are conducted. By that same token, the more you get to know someone, develop a relationship and trust, or learn of attributes that they possess which you find admirable, then your respect for them may increase.

True respect, on the positive end of the spectrum, is genuine and based on character, accomplishment, trust, and honor. It is the respect which does not need to be demanded, because we automatically bestow it on those we deem worthy of it. True respect becomes more relative, subjective, and personal the further along you go, due to individual preferences and priorities about which attributes and accomplishments constitute and are worthy of it.

We all respect different people for different reasons. Although there can often be a large general consensus on certain people deemed worthy of respect by society as a whole, generally speaking, there is usually more of a consensus as a society about who is considered unworthy of respect as opposed to who is. However, as our society grows more fractured and marginalized and our culture and values decline, I think it will become much rarer for there to be a widespread consensus as to who we deem worthy of respect.

Respect is a dynamic concept, rising and perhaps falling over the course of a relationship. It is also important to note that a person may very well possess admirable and contemptible qualities or history at the same time, and therefore respect is a relative and individual judgment and balancing act. It requires critical thinking and one’s own personal character, core values, principles, and judgment to assess the character of another.

In the end, we are all human, we have all made mistakes, and even heroes have their faults. Be careful about placing someone on a pedestal, and be careful about bestowing respect based solely upon superficial qualities. The important thing to remember is that no man, no matter how worthy of respect, should be praised and exalted above others to the point of demigod or superiority status. All men are equal in their humanity, but not all men are equal in their character.

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