A meme that floats through social media from time to time bothers the heck out of me. “Respect is earned, not given” it says.
Think about that for a minute. How does the person you have just met, the person to whom you are introducing yourself, earn your respect in that first thirty seconds? Is it the case that during that thirty seconds you do not offer respect because it has not been earned? Does this not mean that immediate respect depends on outward appearances? Can we accurately judge what kind of a person we are encountering?
How much respect would you have given – if you did not know his story – to that high-rolling, wealthy businessman named Bernie Madoff whose machinations ruined many honest and earnest investors? How much respect would you give to the sweaty, scruffy clothed, dirty-faced man who has just worked a double shift to keep the electricity flowing to your home after major storms – if you did not know his story?
Surely respect, for any living, breathing human being should be the default. Does not everyone deserve the benefit of the doubt until we know the story – if we ever do? How different would this make our lives? How different would it make the lives of those many people who society tends to assume are unworthy of respect?
I’m not talking unquestioning trust and adulation here. Just basic respect both in our behavior and, most importantly, in our thoughts.
Would that be too much to ask?
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