What Is Respect?

Rude boy pulling a face and sticking his tongue out

Respect is quite a ‘buzz word’ for young people these days. Whether they’re asking for it … or accusing someone of ‘dissing’ (disrespecting) them … there appears to be an awareness that to have respect or give respect is something worthwhile, and that being disrespectful is a bad thing. So how exactly can we define ‘respect’ and how might we give it to others?

A simple way to think of respect is that it is treating other people in a way that we ourselves would like to be treated. For example we like other people to listen to our ideas and opinions without interrupting us or criticising us or mocking us ….. so it is respectful to listen to other people in the same way. Also we do not like people telling lies about us or gossiping about us so it is respectful to avoid doing this to others. Or how about receiving a compliment when we have tried really hard at something … even if it wasn’t a complete success!

Young people might sometimes use the word respect to mean “accept our differences”. For example they might think that they are being treated unfairly because of the way that they look or act. This makes sense because – again – they are saying “put yourself in our shoes for a moment …. let us be who we want to be”. However this does not mean that they have a right to act disrespectively towards others; they must give as much respect and dignity as they wish to receive themselves.

Let us expand the idea of respect a bit as we think about respect for animals. If we imagine that we are a pet hamster – and how we would like to be treated as a hamster – then immediately we can see how to treat a hamster with respect. I would like a nice big cage with lots of space to move around in, clean straw and bedding, clean water, nutritious fresh food and plenty of chances for regular exercise and attention.

Let us go a step further and imagine that we are a tree. I want clean air, clean water and good soil that is not contaminated with chemicals and pollution. If I imagine myself as a nice sandy beach I do not want to be covered in litter, broken glass and dog poop!

By thinking about how we want to be treated (or would like to be treated in other circumstances) we can start to understand how to respect others, respect animals and even how to respect our neighbourhood and the planet.

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