Sunday, April 27, 2014

With All Undue Respect

Zoë Sharp
“You treat people with a respect you somehow do not expect to receive yourself.”

This was said to me last year by someone I’ve known for a long time, if not closely. I had no idea he’d observed me well enough to form such an opinion one way or another.

My first instinct was denial. Or not quite denial but certainly qualification. Respect is not something that can be expected—not in the present world.

It has to be worked for, earned.

And once you have it, you can’t simply hang it above the fireplace like a dusty stag’s head trophy and expect admiration from all comers. It has to be carefully maintained or the moths will turn it into little more than a memory.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking of me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”―Jackie Robinson

Respect is a living entity, always shifting, always in motion—much like the stag before someone shot and stuffed it.

One false move, and it’s gone.

I respect someone who has a no-nonsense competence without allowing their ego to enter the equation. It should be possible to be good at what you do without making yourself thoroughly unpleasant in the process.
But it seems to me that modern society will break down not because of some great catastrophe, but because of a series of tiny personal injustices. How many times recently have you experienced the following?

~Watched someone pick up a piece of litter they did not drop?

~Been let out into traffic by someone who had to inconvenience themselves to do so, rather than because they had to stop anyway?

~Been thanked by someone you’ve let out into traffic when you had to inconvenience yourself to do so, rather than because you had to stop anyway?

~Had a door held open?

~Had a car slow down to pass you walking along a wet road so you weren’t splashed?

~Been invited to go ahead by the person before you at the supermarket checkout because they’re shopping for a siege and you have only a few items?

These may seem like trivial examples—and indeed they are—but they are also the niceties of civilisation that make us human.

So, what petty injustices have you witnessed recently, or what random small acts of kindness?

Instead of a Word of the Week, this time round I have a selection of quotations on the subject of respect—or lack of it.

“You should respect each other and refrain from disputes; you should not, like water and oil, repel each other, but should, like milk and water, mingle together.”―Buddha

“They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.”―Mohandas K. Gandhi

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”―Richard Bach

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”―Malcom X

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”―Winston Churchill

“I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”―Rodney Dangerfield

“Men are so willing to respect anything that bores them.”―Marilyn Monroe

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”―Lao Tzu

“I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.”―Edward Gibbon

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”―Voltaire

“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”―Salvador Dali

“I do respect people's faith, but I don't respect their manipulation of that faith in order to create fear and control.”―Javier Bardem

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”―Laurence Sterne

“I don't have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It's what you do with it that counts.”―Martin Ritt

“I respect my limitations, but I don't use them as an excuse.”―Stephen R. Donaldson

“If you are killed because you are a writer, that's the maximum expression of respect, you know.”―Mario Vargas Llosa

‘“With the greatest respect,” I said. Always a nice phrase to use when you intend to speak without any.’―Charlie Fox


  1. An old friend once said to me ; "You always get further with honey than you will with vinegar." And that people often mistake politeness for weakness.
    Which means I go through life wary of nice polite people! Thankfully I meet very few......

    1. Hmm, I can think of one occasion recently when I was too polite for too long and people thought they could walk all over me. They act so hurt when you finally decide they've crossed your line in the sand, don't they?

  2. Interesting questions, Zoe. Believe it or not I regularly experience much of that sort of positive behavior in the US, though it varies remarkably as to which courtesies are practiced and which ignored depending on the state (US state) you're in. A decided difference let's say between TX, NY and CA. And then there's Greece :)

    On appropriate quotations, I think a combination of Lao Tzu and Malcolm X works for me.

    1. That Malcolm X quote is one of my favourites, I confess. And yes, in my experience people do tend to be more polite in the States than they do over this side of the Atlantic, sadly. Service with a snarl can be the norm ...

  3. For you our peerless Zoe:
    "Always respect your superiors, if you have any." Mark Twain.

  4. After all these years that I have been alive, I have come to believe very deeply that all creatures, human and not, desire respect. When I have been injured by someone, they cease to have importance for me, and I move on. It's all I can do to protect myself from assault-since I don't bear any resemblance to to Charlie Fox.

    1. I admire your philosophy, lil, since taking a real dislike to someone takes energy and emotion that I would not like to expend on them any longer. And even Charlie was a victim once ...

  5. I try to treat people respectfully, and abide by that "honey" and "vinegar" metaphor. It works, and sometimes one has an amazing day if one thanks someone who usually is not recognized -- a sanitation worker, a delivery person, a postal worker,medical provider, bank teller, etc. And, of course, treats them with respect.

    However, if one is not treated respectfully, but awfully, one has the right to respond, complain, whatever.

    1. Hi Kathy. I recently had awful problems with a watch I sent for repair. It went to a recognised dealer for the manufacturer early last November. I finally received it back at the end of January. It was returned with the face marked, the glass chipped, and the hands dirty. I sent it back again in Feb, and finally received it in good condition earlier this month, having chased it several times. After being without the watch for nearly six months I was glad to have it back -- and wrote to thank the dealer for their patience. Just because I had to shout at them when they got it wrong didn't mean I couldn't be polite and grateful when they finally got it right.

  6. I would have been pulling my hair out and sputtering if I'd gotten a watch back in that condition.

    Good that you maintained patience. It worked out in the end.

    All I know is that I had a nice today in the Big Apple doing errands, thanking people, complimenting them -- in stores, etc., and the responses just made my day.

    1. Bravo, Kathy. All too often, staff in such places only hear from customers who want to complain. I'm sure you made their day too. :)