It is a song that has been heard around the world for decades. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T; Find out what it means to me” was the chorus. Interestingly enough it was not the first version of the song by its composer that really made it big and garnered respect. Otis Redding wrote the song in 1965 and recorded it, singing as a man who would give up his dignity for his lover. Aretha Franklin re-recorded it in 1968 and won two Grammy’s, the recording industry’s highest honors in the U.S.A. In 2002 her version was selected by the Library of Congress (USA) to be inducted into the National Recording Registry. Aretha Franklin’s version demanded respect and became a song for all women to have pride in being women.
Respect, simply put, means to show regard for someone or something. It certainly is not a new concept but I do think we might just need an epiphany of sorts about it. As children we are first taught respect, that concept of showing feeling for something. We are taught not to hit another, to share our food, toys, seats for elders…The list is endless. Regardless of the culture or geographical location, respect is a common thing among all cultures and faiths. It is found at the basis of all spiritualities and religions. And yet, those are often the very entities that seem to be most at fault for forgetting about it.
It was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who first connected morality with respect. However, philosophers have bantered the topic about in multiple contexts including justice, equality, political rights, human rights, cultural diversity, tolerance, and yes, even religion for centuries. Respect for people is a central concept of most ethical theories. Kant argued that should always be treated with respect and all people should have self-respect. In the twentieth century his teachings became the battle cry of humanism and environmentalists as the need for respect spread to nonliving and nonhuman things as well as mankind.
However, just how respect is to be shown has very much become a topic of dissension, often due to various cultures and fanatical sects of religions. Enthusiasm has led to blindness in respecting others’ diversity. The role morality plays in showing respect seems to have been lost or forgotten. The word comes from the Latin “respicere”, meaning to look again”. To some that means that the person respecting an item, person, or ideal, views it differently from one who does not. Must we share the same perception in order to respect something?
Maybe this is the epiphany we need to have regarding respect. We don’t have to agree or like something in order to respect it. I recently attended a wedding and the wedding cake was a beautiful work of art. The seven tiers represented the length of time the couple had dated and the design was elaborate yet tasteful. I completely respected the effort and techniques involved as well as the artistry of the design. The cake and icing, though, were both things I am allergic to and so I cannot say that it tasted good because I had none. I still respected the effort and amount of work and skill that went into the cake, nonetheless.
When we respect something we do need to look it, to give it proper attention and see it as it is, not through the filter of our own personal likes and dislikes or fears. Over two decades ago I had the chance to work with an Islamic Imam. His religion and the writings of it that I read were beautiful and peaceful. Similarly, at the same time, I had friends who were Hindu and Jewish. For several years we shared each other’s religions and spiritualities and celebrations. I gave up nothing of my own beliefs and neither did they. The respect we showed one another helped us strengthen our own resolves and grow as individuals and world citizens. We, quite simply, respected each other.
In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Robin S. Dillon recently wrote: “Respect is also an expression of agency: it is deliberate, a matter of directed rather than grabbed attention, of reflective consideration and judgment.” On his recent trip en route to the Philippines, Pope Francis discussed freedom of speech and the need for it not to be misused. “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”
U2 singer and One.org founder Bono states: “To be one, to be united, is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.” We all need to choose to live the bright idea of respect taught to us as children. It will determine our future and be our end if we do not. Former President of the United States of America Dwight D. Eisenhower explained it best: “This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” We give nothing up when we respect and we have everything to gain by an epiphany of respect.