If there’s one thing that I consider non-negotiable in life, it’s respect. Working with young people on a daily basis I feel it especially important to teach them how to show respect. I also find it heartbreaking that society apparently no longer sees respect as a necessary value. We no longer respect our governments, laws, traffic regulations, parents, children, authority figures, people who serve, each other. Our society has changed to one where each person believes he can do whatever he wants because that’s his right. And while I’m not against human rights, somewhere in the fight for our freedom and rights we have forgotten the other side of the coin: our responsibility to respect the same rights of others.
Respect is only learned in two ways as far as I can tell: by looking at another’s example and by experiencing the consequences of disrespectful behaviour. As mentioned above, there is no longer anyone setting an example for young people how to respect. Every day they sit in the car as their parents ignore stop signs, switch lanes without indicating, turn without having right of way and throw trash out the window, and get the message it’s okay to disregard the law, other motorists and the environment. They see how their parents talk to shop assistants, waiters and parking attendants, and they get the message it’s okay to treat others like crap, because you have money and that makes you worth more than them. They see the way their parents talk to their teachers and get the idea they can also talk to their teachers that way. They hear how their parents talk to them and each other, and they follow that behaviour. They switch on the television and watch disrespect being glamorised on Jerry Springer, on MTV, on almost every sitcom and even most kid shows.
And consequences? What consequences? It is the rare parent that still disciplines his child, and if most governments in the world can get their say those few degenerates who still believe in punishment will soon be stopped. Schools can no longer even expel a disruptive or even violent child because that will be harming his right to education, never mind that that child is harming the right to education for 30 other learners and getting away with attacking the very humanity of a teacher. Even many churches no longer dare to preach about the consequences of sin, fearful to offend its members, forgetting that the wages of sin is death.
I repeat: respect is non-negotiable. Christianity teaches us to treat others as we want to be treated. Judaism is all about obedience and compassion. Islam’s very name means ‘submission’. Buddhism at its core has the principle of respect for all of creation, as do all the animistic religions of the world. There is not a religion or culture on earth where respect is not one of the cornerstones. But in our society that cornerstone is crumbling, and if we don’t start doing something about it soon, it’s going to bring the whole building down.
Start with yourself. Start respecting the rights of others more than you fight for your own. Start noticing other people, all people, and realise that they were also created in God’s image, just like you, and should be treated with the same respect that you want to be treated with. Realise respect has to be given before it can be expected. And above all, start setting an example, to your children, your colleagues, anyone you encounter at any time. Respect yourself.