Respect, regardless

A few weeks ago, somewhere, probably on Twitter, someone made a revolutionary observation. They said something like:

“Respect is not earned. It’s given to everyone.”

They undoubtedly said it more elegantly. But it’s as interesting a point as it is an obvious one. Universal respect for all people, for all beings, is a nice idea in theory. But in practice, it’s harder.

We respect our friends. We have respect for our family. For our colleagues. For the people we queue behind in the supermarket even. We recognise their humanity and all the things that entails. We also have respect for children. And for animals. 

But what about terrorists? What about the rapists and the paedophiles behind bars and those still at large? These people are humans too. And if we agree with the idea above, that everyone is deserving of respect, we can’t exclude these fringe populations. We can’t deny these people our respect.

The problem here is that all respect isn’t created equal. In fact, we can probably break respect down into two forms.

– Basic respect: given to everyone, regardless of actions, words or beliefs.
– Specific respect: given to people who meet certain criteria or standards in particular domains.

Basic respect is what the idea above is about. It’s based on the recognition that every human being is, as Kant put it, an ends not a means. That each individual is entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. But it’s a different animal compared to specific respect.

Basic respect is unconditional. Specific respect is conditional. Basic respect is given. Specific respect is earned. Basic respect is about inclusion. Specific respect is about exclusion.  Basic respect comes in a single shape and is shared by everyone. Specific respect has many variations and it’s makeup is unique to the individual holding it.

See the difference?