Is it success or grit or simply determination to hang in there and win. Is it something less laudable but still overwhelming like fame and power and wealth and a collection of status symbols? Perhaps generosity of spirit or awesome displays of intellect and skill in a field of endeavour. Admiration for excellence, though how any of us have the moral fibre to praise another.
We have all heard the clichés of respect has to be earned not bought and you cannot order it and then there is that delightful adjunct called self-respect and how, if you don’t give it to yourself you cannot expect others to give it to you.
But that said, how many of us spend a huge amount of time giving respect a short deal because we mix it with fear, insecurity, sycophancy and survival.
It can be any of these and in any combination, often reduced to a game or a strategy loaded with deep insincerity which is why often the relationship between the human race and the respect factor is based on more slippery and expedient grounds. Break it down..
There is the respect of power in which one exercises control over another and therefore demands at least visual respect. There is the respect of rank by which society structures us into rungs and the lower rungs respond to the demands of the higher ones. There is the respect of finance where the receiver puts on token shows in deference to the giver because it suits him to do so. There is the respect of fear where resistance can hurt you and you need insurance against such injury. Often this is the most potent form of ‘respect’.
It is no wonder therefore, that we have successfully mutilated respect to mean everything but what it should. We see it as an oily and unctuous concession that serves our purpose rather than acknowledge it as a salutation to a higher achiever.
But these are easy forms of the new respect, so obvious and orchestrated that most of us have become adept at handling them. All you need is a little flattery, a few spoons of Uriah Heepish servility and a cheerfully amoral code of conduct and the odds on earth favour your making it safely through the shoals of life.
You see, most of us are delightfully susceptible to the counterfeit variety considering how difficult it is to attain the genuine.
There is one category that defies the general rule and sets itself up like a duck at the shooting gallery. That is the respect of and for those who offer us liberty. It is frightening courtesy and one that, for some reason, goes against the grain. You see, we don’t particularly like freedom even though we can kill for it as a concept. This is largely because we don’t know what to do with it. Freedom is a huge, intimidating monster because it leaves the choice to us and that onus is oppressive. It is much more comfortable to have the decision taken out of our hands and re-imposed so we can cavil about it and be happy.
One would have imagined that human beings would feel privileged to be treated as adults capable even on subordinate levels of making decisions and taking on responsibility. That does not always happen and one tends to dilute the offer of freedom with scorn and discourtesy, frequently taking advantage and seeing it as a chance to play truant. Which is acceptable if you are 15 but not so if you are a full fledged adult. But we see this in reverse so often. We tend to become familiar with those who treat us well, we take liberties, conspire and try and take advantage of courtesy instead of counting our blessings that we are dealing with someone who shows us respect of the real kind.