R- E- S- P- E- C- T – Aretha Franklin reminded us how it’s spelled, but a lot of us need coaching on how to show it. In both personal and political relationships, the failure to treat each other with respect is generating incivility, contempt, and violence.

There’s an important distinction between respecting a person in the sense that we admire and hold that person in especially high esteem and treating others with respect. While respecting others is desirable, respectfulness is morally mandatory. Thus, people of character treat everyone with respect, even those who are not personally respect worthy.

The way we behave toward others is an expression of our values and character. Thus, we should treat others with respect, not because they have a right but because we have a moral duty to do unto others the way we want them to do unto us. Again, it’s not because they deserve it, but because doing less would diminish our own character.

That’s the message in an old story about a politician who caught himself being drawn into mud‑slinging and name‑calling. Once he realized he was lowering himself to his opponent’s level, he stopped and said, “Sir, I will treat you as a gentleman, not because you are one, but because I am one.”

It can take a lot of self‑control to be respectful to people who are nasty, dishonorable, or disrespectful to us. Still, our inner sense of integrity should help us resist temptations to “fight fire with fire.” As Lily Tomlin said, “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 2

  1. I absolutely agree. I hear people say “respect has to be earned”, and when I ask how to earn it, frequently there is no answer. Because it must be given freely – not earned.

    I believe every person has worth and value and should be treated as such.

  2. Michael,
    So poignantly stated, often difficult to consistently demonstrate, but such an honorable action. If everyone treated each other with respect than maybe there would be no “rats” in the “rat race.”

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