Tit for tat
My first conscious acquaintance with what is meant by respect, without knowing the term, was in early childhood as the – sometimes forceful – demand to obey and behave respectfully towards my parents and grandparents.
In other words, respect as esteem for one’s elders. That is still deeply engrained in me today. Even as an octogenarian, I would offer an elderly lady my seat on the S-Bahn. At some point in my life, my respectful behaviour towards old age expanded to include other characteristics such as impressive achievements, skills, … Until I then realised that respect is not a value to be provided solely by me towards others, but I too expected respectful behaviour to myself. Whatever that means in any particular situation. I perceive it as a feeling that something doesn’t fit and this triggers my consciousness.
Respect has become an important part of my value system. Having respect and being able to expect respect. I pay attention to reciprocity. Therefore, respect is a trust-building feature of a relationship – or not!
When I look back in my life history, I realise that what I have respect for has also changed and expanded in the course of my life. Now as ever for people. But beyond that and more comprehensively, I now respect being a time-limited living example of the species homo sapiens and thus a temporary entity of the Earth system. Presumptuous words? Perhaps. Can one have respect for system Earth? According to my findings, yes, and that shapes my attitude. This attitude, in turn, is for me the basis for responsible action in this VUKA world.
My attitude in the sense of Kant’s imperative as a principle of action for my fellow species is a dream in which they practise respect for everyone and everything. Respect for differences of all kinds: ethnicities, genders, skin colour, culture, ideologies, religions – in short, respect for life.
And the present? In our liberalistic form of society, I experience increasing individualisation. This has created an incredible diversity of opinions. A plurality of “truths” that, however, lacks a common denominator. Social media enable the networking of like-minded people and promote what we have recently come to call the formation of bubbles. It is predominantly about the assertion of claims to truth. Respect? We represent the truth, they proclaim. We expect respect from those who think differently. Understood in this one-sided way, respect is perverted into a claim to power, authority and ignorance of anything that deviates from one’s own convictions.
And the future? Who or what deserves our respect? Everyone will have their own answer to that. But hopefully, respect for life and this planet will play a central role. At first glance, this looks like a one-sided relationship, which I have criticised above. But on closer inspection it is not. The planet will thank us and enable our children and our children’s children to exist.
Original text: PUE
English translation: BCO
- Respekt vor der Natur: UTO