RESPECT: What does it mean, really?

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Ethical leadership, like being an ethical person,
is grounded in respect for humanity but respect is something that
  • few people can define
  • only some people give
  • but everyone wants

Respect is so important that I feel that we should have a moral duty to respect others.

Respect is
  • a part of our humanity
  • an attitude about the dignity of others
  • leads to the actions we take

Respect is a concept defining the nature of relationships, the interdependence and cooperation, between people and for institutions. Respect is about how you view and regard others as being worthy. Respect is understanding that people are not objects to be used. Respect is the positive environment, the soil in which relationships grow. Character, integrity and trust are connected respect. Reciprocity, the Golden Rule, is dependent on respect. Being respectful means being ethical which means that you care about how you pursue your goals.

Everything in life is a negotiation of one sort or another. The cardinal rules for successful win-win negotiation outcomes are to have respect and reciprocity. Respect must be reciprocal and each side must feel respected before trust can develop.

Respect is important for so many aspects of how we related to one another but we treat it like a scarce resource. Respect is not a scarce resource but a plentiful one as respect creates more respect.

Definitions of respect (noun) (wikipedia)

: a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.

: a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

: a particular way of thinking about or looking at something
[mass noun]
1. A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements

2. Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others
1. A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem: I have great respect for your work.
2. The state of being regarded with honor or esteem: a leader held in the greatest respect.
a. Consideration or appreciation: Can't you at least give me some respect?
b. Due regard for something considered important or authoritative: respect for the law.
Merriam-Webster.com OxfordDictionaries.com TheFreeDictionary.com

3. esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: I have great respect for her judgment.
4. deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.
5. the condition of being esteemed or honored: to be held in respect.
1. To take notice of; to regard with special attention; to regard as worthy of special consideration; hence, to care for; to heed.

2. To consider worthy of esteem; to regard with honor.

4. To regard; to consider; to deem.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, ©
Random House, Inc. 2006.
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1998 MICRA, Inc.

Summarizing the various definitions I see respect as a mixture of consideration, esteem and deference towards a person. Respect includes both how we feel towards another person and how act towards the person (or institution). The feeling is the core essence of respect with the outward actions being signs of that respect.

There are two levels of respect,
  • the basic level being the inherent respect for humanity, our equality, dignity and fundamental human rights and liberties (justice and fairness) and
  • the advanced level being the earned or achieved trust that comes form having accomplished something of value.

Our level of inherent respect is an orientation that we choose.
Our orientation should not be towards utilitarianism, where people are just objects to be used.

Honor is a step up from respect: respect that is given to someone who is admired
Reverence is a step up from honor: to have great respect for or to show devotion
Respect is related to civility.

Esteem from Admiration
Assessment of worthiness
Sense of high worth

Deference from Courteous regard
Demeanor towards other
Submission to superior

Consideration from Selflessness & Humility
Caring of needs of others
Careful not to inconvenience or harm others

Synonyms: appreciation, admiration, due regard, recognition, thoughtful, kind, unselfish, sympathetic, amiable, polite, value

Being considerate

Over time the concept of respect appears to be changing with consideration (inherent component) becoming less important while the achieved component becoming more important. Today, respect is more about admiration of achievement and submission to authority than the concept of solidarity and reciprocity between individuals.

Being considerate means that we have a fundamental respect for humanity and the rule of law that governs society. Every person, whether we like them or not, has certain rights that need to be respected. To refrain from doing harm to another person is one of the basic principles that we need to hold dear.

We have respect for others and we have respect for ourselves. We treat others with dignity and we treat ourselves with dignity. Having self-respect means that we do not allow others to take advantage of us just like we do not take advantage of others.

Definition of considerate
  • careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others.
  • thoughtful towards other people; kind ( C )
  • showing kindly awareness or regard for another's feelings, circumstances, etc. ( D )
  • thinking about the rights and feelings of other people (M-W)
  • Careful not to inconvenience or harm others ( O )

Being considerate is about caring for the well-being of others. Being polite and having good manners is a sign of respect towards others. We can all be more considerate of others. You can never be too considerate.

A considerate and respectful person is kind and thoughtful
— a good person, the type of person we all want to know.

Sign of respect

How do you gauge the appropriate level of inherent respect that you should give to a person?

Positive actions that you do. If you look up to people you have respect for them. Do you have a positive/optimistic worldview that people have something worthy to contribute or have the right to be treated fairly? A good person will take seriously the ideas of others just like he expects his ideas to be taken seriously. A person that has respect for others does not try to manipulate or coerce people into action. A good person will deal with others in good faith and will fulfill responsibilities.

Negative actions that you do not do. Do you look down on people? Having respect for people means that you will not take advantage of people. If you see people as a means to an end then you do not have respect for them. If you are willing to cause harm to someone for your own benefit or for the cause that is an indicator that you do not have respect for the person.

Compare it to how much respect you want to receive. Give others the same level of respect you believe that you deserve. If you do not want to be treated as a means to an end, then do not treat others as just a means to your ends. You like it when people are polite towards you and treat you with respect, so reciprocate.

Incivility does not justify uncivil actions. If the other does not show you the respect you deserve that does not negate your obligation to show respect to the other as two wrongs do not make a right. Disrespect from both parties leads to nothing but a vicious downward spiral. The good person will take the moral high ground and respect the other for their humanity and not solely for the level of respect they show.

A lack of respect erodes social capital.

A good society is built on win-win solutions.
Society crumbles when we seek win-lose solutions.

When respect is not respect

Respect is never based on fear. An autocratic leader, a dictator, that people fear can receive the outward signs of respect but this is not respect as respect is based on positive esteem and rarely do we feel esteem for someone we fear. You cannot force people to feel esteem and so you can't force subordinates to feel respect.

I might not like the leader but I have to respect the position. In a similar way I need to have respect for people I do not like. The individual is a member of humanity and I have respect for all humanity and so the person deserves the basic inherent level of respect for the person's rights to life, liberty and human rights but I do not need to respect the individual as a person.

Legal systems, with punishment as the only motivator, can't produce and foster respect.
Moral systems, and leading by example does create and foster respect.


A precursor for consideration is humility (wikipedia).
  • the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people (M-W)
  • a way of behaving that shows that you do not think that you are better or more important than other people ( M )

The best way, most positive way, to think about humility and being humble is to consider it to not be pretentious, to have modesty in your behavior, attitude, or spirit. Being humble means not to be arrogant or prideful (narcissism, vainglory, hubris).

Being humble is not about meekness, being passive and submissive. It is not about being beneath someone – it is about being free from pride and arrogance / self-assertion. It is about being "grounded" comfortable with who you are. You should respect yourself, have good self-esteem and pride in yourself, your appearance and accomplishments, in a humble way.

Talking about your humility is not humble.
A truly humble man does not brag about his humility.
A humble person leads by example.

It is always the secure who are humble.
~G.K. Chesterton

Updated 6th-April-2015 at 04:35 PM by Željko Zidarić