Over the years, I have given numerous journal prompts to students on the subject of respect. It should be noted that I do not generally imagine that children are much less respectful now than at any time in the past. I am not prone to believe that students in my day were vastly more respectful and treated their elders or authority figures with greater appreciation than students do now. In fact, if I were forced to testify in court, I would probably have to say that students are more respectful now than we were. (I believe that I have evidence to that effect, but that would be the subject of a different journal, so I will refrain from harping on it now.)(And it certainly might be conditional.)
There is one element of modern respect, though, that really grinds my gears, and that is the topic for this journal. A frequent thought process over the years has generally followed this line of “logic”: ‘I have no problem showing respect to people if they show me respect.’ To this, my general sort of response is, “Well whoop de doo!” I have a number of reasons for finding that statement insufficient. To wit:
It is remarkably easy to show another person the same respect that they show to us. But true respect is not a conditional thing; it is an always thing. We should not hoard our respect, waiting on others to earn it; we should give it freely, knowing that it is the right thing to do. Whether or not we are respectful to others is about our personal values not about their behavior. Being respectful is a way of life, and we do not (should not) change our own values simply because someone else does (or does not) share those values. Certainly, it is more difficult to be respectful of someone who does not demonstrate respect, but that is no excuse.
Usually this approach will cause a student to raise an extreme question like, “Should we respect Hitler’s beliefs about the Jews?” Of course the answer is, “No”, but that then puts us in the position of trying to define when respect is appropriate and when it is not. Unless we can define our parameters for respect, and even the meaning of the term itself, we cannot discuss it intelligently.
In a more realistic vein, it might recently have been a question when a U.S. Congressman shouted out, “You lie” during the President’s State of the Union message. By nearly every definition, this rises to a level of disrespect that we should not countenance. No matter what we think of Barack Obama the man, our definition of respect and the necessary appreciation for the significance of the office of the Presidency, as well as our general desire for decorum should preclude such behavior. It is an indication of the current state of our social civility that such behavior is not seen as unusual or even unacceptable by some folks. (It should be noted that the shouter later publicly apologized, but not to a national TV audience.)
The irony of conditional respect is that it works much better the other way around. People who give respect to others are bound to receive much more respect in return. It kind of boggles my mind that students don’t perceive this formula. If they would walk into each classroom on Day 1, showing their teacher and the subject great respect, the entire educational process would go so much better it would almost be immeasurable. As a student of human behavior, I believe that then teachers would be much more respectful of their students’ intelligence, contributions, and feelings. In that environment, I have to think that all of us would be better off.I think I have been pretty successful over the years by treating my students with respect. Viewing my students as adults capable of rational thought and significant feelings seems to have generally been quite effective. Unless, of course, my students have only been showing me affection and respect out of a misguided sense that they will only give me what I give them first.