All In: Respect—Earned or Chosen?
Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.
I have long been fascinated with the idea of the paradox. Most of us have some idea about paradoxes because they exist all around us in one form or another and because we probably had to learn the term and understand the concept in language arts class.
Just in case, here’s the definition: a situation, person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
A simple example of a paradox is given in the Yogi Berra comment above. If nobody comes here anymore, how can it be crowded? Yet, there is truth to the idea behind his quote. Many of us have had an experience similar to this where we and our friends stop going someplace because it is too crowded.
A paradox with which I struggle involves respect. We often hear that you have to earn respect. We have to work for it through our actions and deeds. It is also common for people to say you have to give respect to get respect. And, at the same time, people say that we can choose respect. I can choose to be respectful of someone else regardless of the way they may act. So, which is it? Do we have to earn it; is it reciprocal; or can we choose it? These concepts seem paradoxical, yet they are all commonly held beliefs.
As I dig deeper into the concept of respect, I return to the dictionary. I can see through the definitions where the paradox comes from.
The first part of the definition states that respect is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.” In this case, the people we respect have earned it. They have achieved or accomplished something worthy of our regard. They have qualities that we admire.
The second part of the definition says that respect is “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others.” This is where we can choose respect. And in a school setting, it is especially helpful to know that we can respect someone by caring for their needs, feelings and traditions. We do not need to like someone’s actions in a specific situation, but we can respect the underlying person and behave in accordance with that foundational feeling. We can treat them with respect.
So, is respect earned or chosen? It is both. It is a paradox where both parts of the definition are true. We can respond with respect by admiring someone’s achievements and/or by choosing to care for someone’s feelings, wishes, rights and traditions. It seems that this is a paradox we should spend a lot more time thinking about and talking about in schools.
It is incumbent upon adults in schools to be models of how to show and choose respect no matter the student’s actions or words in a given situation. We can choose respect as we respond in the moment, and we can explicitly teach students how to show and earn respect. One upcoming program of note offered by the Montgomery County community is the annual Choose Respect Conference on healthy teen dating. This year’s event will be held on April 7 at Richard Montgomery High School.
Teaching students that they, too, can choose respect is a critical part of helping them develop into independent and efficacious individuals. And teaching them how to earn the respect of others gives them a lifelong skill that will help them beyond school into college and careers. Respect of self and others is complex and must be taught and reinforced through the years as children grow and mature. We are never too old to refine these skills.
Good Read/Good Listen
As we all know, learning doesn’t stop when you become an adult. I am constantly learning about new ideas and exploring new perspectives. I do this through books, articles and podcasts. Each blog, I will share a few of the most interesting ones with you. Some have made me ask questions, some have irritated me; others have made me smile or frown. I hope they make you think critically and open doors to new information and ideas.
Student Self-Assessment, Stanford University, Teaching Commons